The bill on Front Food Labeling, promoted by the Frente de Todos, aims to report the presence of excess critical nutrients such as salt, sodium, sugar, saturated fat and trans fat, in processed foods.
The opposition of Together for Change thwarted the treatment of the initiative this week, leaving the session in the Chamber of Deputies without a quorum. Before, they tried different excuses to hinder the legislative process. They asked, for example, that the single ballot be included on the parliamentary agenda, among other issues. Previously, an agenda had been agreed with four projects that had commission offices, that is, they had broad parliamentary support from both the ruling party and the opposition. They also pointed out that some deputies had not been able to arrive due to mobility problems. But the meeting was called well in advance and everyone had a choice of different means of transportation.
What happened is that the main opposition made a political decision that was difficult for them to explain publicly: that of obstructing the treatment of this bill. What was expressed in this dispute? On the one hand, the approval of an instrument for the consumer to decide on their own consumption and have the option of increasing the protection of their health. This implies putting into play a value that Together for Change often cites insistently: that of individual freedom to make rational decisions. On the other hand, the lobby of many companies producing these processed foods that fear that this greater information in the food could reduce their sales.
Of course, the front labeling bill only provides information to the consumer. It does not impose any prohibition. Therefore, what the change-free opposition does by obstructing the treatment of the project is to prevent access to information by citizens. The initiative does not limit consumers who want to continue consuming products with excess fat, sugar or salt. Simply, what you are looking for is that they have more information about what they are consuming. The measure does not affect anyone’s freedom. On the contrary, it gives them a greater capacity to exercise their freedoms as consumers.
Along these lines, paraphrasing the opposition, the head of the Block of Deputies of the Frente de Todos, Máximo Kirchner, when his bench was looking for the votes to get a quorum, pointed out that there were “seven deputies to improve the quality of people’s lives ”. What was Maximo saying? That in the dispute between the commercial interest of the companies and the health of the population, the ruling party was in favor of the latter. That is the bottom line.
Many of the foods that are commonly eaten without having too much information are often linked to increased malnutrition and chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease. It is an elementary right to have this information. Even in many countries of the region these standards are already applied, with the support of United Nations agencies, such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Unicef, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). .
In this same perspective, during the week statements were made by the United States Chamber of Commerce in Argentina (AmCham) and the Coordinator of the Food Products Industries (COPAL) with serious objections to the bill. According to Amcham, this type of regulation serves to “scare away investment, hinder trade.” In addition, it added that “norms of these characteristics must be aligned and validated with the rest of the Mercosur countries, this being the logical and natural environment to address this issue.” Daniel Funes de Rioja, president of the Argentine Industrial Union and COPAL, stated, in a similar vein, that “when we put skulls (in reference to the black octagon that would appear on the containers warning of excesses) we are evidently demonizing (…) ; it is clear that it is a modality that aims not to inform but to dissuade ”.
Based on these statements, it is not at all risky to point out that Juntos por el Cambio, among other opposition sectors, put a hand in the wheel to address the initiative, expressing the interests of these corporate actors. It is logical: producing healthy food has higher costs. In addition, the additives that some of these products contain cause them to be consumed more than necessary. So there is a commercial interest that can be affected.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan: “It’s capitalism, stupid.” There is a substantive debate that must continue to be stimulated: the one that takes place between two positions, the one that maintains that the social and economic system can develop without rules, where everyone does what they want; and, on the contrary, the position that supports the need for a present State that regulates, sets limits and defends the interest of the citizenry.
The role of Together for Change is structurally obstructive. They try to prevent the government from advancing in a series of initiatives. They represent a model that is the opposite of the one that the Frente de Todos seeks to implement. For example, they are insistently opposed to all regulations, they propose absolute freedom to take their money abroad, they question the payment of taxes because, according to them, they only maintain an unproductive bureaucracy, they want to reduce the State by reducing public spending, among Another questions. In short, they want to return to the slogan “to shrink the State is to enlarge the Nation”, the great banner of globalized financial capitalism that spread throughout the world from the 1980s on. They insist on deregulation and demonize the role of the public. But they lag behind: globally, the role of regulations is increasingly valued.
In a society still overwhelmed by the pandemic that put the health of millions of people in the world at risk, the main opposition could not publicly explain that, around the Front Food Labeling bill, it opts for the interest of some businessmen and against the health of millions of Argentines.
* National Deputy for the Frente de Todos and President of the Solidarity Party