Colombians can look forward to a healthier food environment in the new year following the passage of two important healthy food policies in 2022. In November, the Colombian Congress approved a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and ultra-processed products (UPPs), making Colombia one of the first countries in the world to tax ultra-processed products. Both the tax for SSBs and the tax for UPPs will be implemented in November 2023. In addition, the Ministry of Health issued a resolution to enforce a new regulation to include octagonal front of package warning labels on foods high in sugar, sodium, trans fats, fats and with any sweeteners. Colombia will follow other countries in the region such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico when this goes into effect in June 2023.

Both policies focus on ultra-processed products, which are defined as industrially manufactured ready to heat and eat foods. These products, which have grown in availability over the past 25 years, contain low nutritional value and have high levels of sugar, sodium and fat and other additives. In countries like Colombia with high rates of obesity and diabetes, it’s critical to shift diets away from ultra-processed products.

These policy wins come after six years of efforts by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator’s (GHAI) Colombian partners who advocated tirelessly for them while facing significant industry interference during the policymaking process. GHAI provided technical assistance to Colombian partners on advocacy, research, legal, and communications strategy to advocate for policy-makers to support food policies, to mobilize civil society support and to counter industry tactics.

Since this advocacy campaign was launched by civil society organizations, both the Ministry of Finance and Health recognized the importance and need to implement SSB and UPP taxes, despite industry’s claims that its products were healthy and didn’t require taxes. Civil society also worked with allies in Congress and the Ministries of Finance and Health to push for the tax. Their efforts marked the first time a proposal from civil society received more than 70 signatures of support from members of Congress belonging to different political parties. Knowing there was strong public support, SSB industries supported the inclusion of the tax – another first for civil society in Colombia and a result of partners’ successful advocacy efforts. Partners’ media advocacy efforts to demonstrate the importance of defining ultra-processed products and including them in the fiscal reform are evident through the increase in media coverage on the topic. The national government has also recognized civil society’s efforts and acknowledged the importance of taxing these products to address their health impacts.

Following the passage of the Ley Comida Chatarra, Colombia’s administrative court ruled in December to protect the country’s food label regulations. This decision was in response to two lawsuits filed by civil society asking the government to protect children’s rights to food and health through regulation. The ruling required the Ministry of Health to enforce the Ley Comida Chatarra with a new regulation based on the best scientific evidence, and to include civil society, including GHAI’s partner Red PaPaz and FIAN Colombia in a new committee to monitor implementation. Following this decision, the Ministry of Health has enacted a new resolution with an octagonal front of package warning label (FOPWL) and the Pan American Health Organization’s guidelines setting the stage for implementation in 2023. The inclusion of the tax and the octagonal FOPWL resolution marks critical milestones for partners in Colombia, with an important public health and fiscal advance.

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