Healthy Food Labeling Program Delayed Until 2020

(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90, Illustrative)

A state-appointed committee on food labeling decided Wednesday to implement labeling rules for manufactured food products only in 2020, not next year, as had been previously proposed. The plan, presented to the committee by Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar-Simantov, was devised by former Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, who when first proposing the program earlier this year called it “a new and dramatic advance in the national effort to provide proper labeling for food. It is within our hands to provide information on proper nutrition to inform Israelis on the best ways to improve their eating habits, especially for their children.”

The proposal implements color-coding for packaged foods. The new labeling would label food products with a symbol indicating if they are healthy or otherwise, with each product graded based on the number of calories, the level of fat, and the amount of added sugar in the product. According to the recommendations, foods that include any of the following – 300 or more calories per 100-gram (3-ounce) serving, 500 mg of sodium and/or 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams, or 5 grams of saturated fat per 100-gram (3-ounce) serving – would get a “red” mark, meaning that consumers should avoid and/or significantly limit their intake. Foods that fit in with recommendations of the Health Ministry, such as having no added sugar, would get a “green” mark.

Among the products to be included in the labeling program will be white cheeses (as well as cream cheese, yogurts and other similar products), which was opposed by large dairies, especially Tnuva – because according to the criteria, many of the yogurts and dairy snacks made by the company will be labeled unhealthy, due to the added sugar in many of them. Tnuva dominates the Israeli cheese market, with 74 percent of sales, and for years has advertised its products as healthy alternatives to junk food.

The plan was to originally have been implemented next March. Explaining the need for the delay, Bar-Simantov said that the labeling issue “is very complicated, and according to existing laws, we have to give manufacturers two years to change their labeling, as they have to work through existing stock of packaging.” With that, an earlier, partial stage of the program, in which only certain foods were to be labeled, will be skipped, and the tougher criteria in the second stage of the program will be in effect when labeling becomes mandatory in 2020, Bar-Simantov said.

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