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May 13, 2024

The Mexican Supreme Court of Justice confirmed the constitutionality of front-of-package warning labeling regulations

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Mexico grapples with alarming rates of diet related non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Effective front-of-package warning labels (FOPWL) for ultra-processed food products provide consumers with information to protect themselves against this public health challenge. Since adopting a FOPWL law which went into effect in October 2020, the industry filed multiple constitutional claims (amparos) against the law. In a victory for public health, those legal challenges were recently rejected in a decision by the Mexican Supreme Court. 

The legal challenges, known as amparos, were filed by corporations disputing the constitutionality of regulations that mandate FOPWL on products containing critical nutrients associated with NCDs, such as sugar, sodium and saturated fat, which are harmful to health. If successful, these challenges would have exempted the challengers from displaying FOPWLs on their products. This could have set a precedent allowing other corporations to do the same. 

Instead, the Court unanimously confirmed the constitutionality of the FOPWL regulations. Some of its key findings: 

  1. The Objective of FOPWL Regulations: The court affirmed that the purpose of FOPWLs is for consumers to quickly and easily identify the products high in harmful critical nutrients; to protect the rights to health and adequate food, consumers’ rights and children’s rights; and to prevent NCDs. 
  2. Protection of Public Health and Human Rights: The judgments underscored the paramount importance of safeguarding public health and protecting the right to health as mandated by the Mexican Constitution and binding international instruments.  
  3. Right to Information: The Court recognized consumers' right to accurate and accessible information. FOPWLs serve as a conduit for conveying essential nutritional information clearly and concisely to consumers.  
  4. FOPWL Regulations in Relation to the Interests of the Food and Beverage Industry
    • The Companies’ rights to freedom of trade and free competition are not hindered by the adoption of FOPWL because they can continue to participate in the market and carry out their business activities. The FOPWL regulations do not constitute a barrier to commerce and pursue a legitimate objective. 
    • The Court ruled that the FOPWL regulations do not hinder companies' freedom to operate. The regulations comply with the proportionality principle by promoting people's health and ensuring that consumers have access to all the information needed for better nutrition. Additionally, FOPWL regulations do not prohibit the sale, purchase and consumption of pre-packaged edible products. 
    • The warning label “Contains caffeine. Avoid in children” is not discriminatory and protects children’s rights to health and adequate food by discouraging children from consuming products with added caffeine. 
    • The warning label "Contains sweeteners. Not recommended for children" aims to prevent adverse health effects in children and ensure that they can easily identify products that pose health risks. 
    • The FOWPL regulations do not discriminate between critical nutrients and non-sugar sweeteners. The Court found that critical nutrients and non-sugar sweeteners are treated equally in the administrative technical regulation and that there is evidence for doing so.  
    • There is not unequal treatment between prepackaged products, bulk products and products packaged at the point of sale. The Court asserted that these products have different nature and thus, it was reasonable to treat them differently.  
  5. Social Acceptance and Achieving the Objective of FOPWL: The judgments recognize that FOPWLs are effective and have been widely accepted by the Mexican population, with 74 percent considering it good or very good to have information on excess calories, harmful critical nutrients and additives in packaged foods and beverages.  
  6. Scientific Evidence: The Court's decisions are grounded in scientific evidence, acknowledging the link between dietary habits and health outcomes.  

As this was the first case on FOPWLs to be heard before a superior tribunal, it drew close attention from advocates in Mexico and countries in the region. The Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) was one of the many organizations that submitted amicus briefs supporting the constitutionality of FOPWL regulations in Mexico. In its amicus, GHAI emphasized that unhealthy eating habits, including the consumption of food products high in critical nutrients such as salt, sugar and fats, are major risk factors for NCDs. The brief underscored that Mexico's FOPWL is based on the best available evidence, free from conflict of interest and upholds rights such as the right to health, adequate food, information and children's rights. The submission of the amicus brief is a result of a collaborative effort with El Poder del Consumidor, an organization that is on the front lines of all legal challenges brought by the industry against the FOPWLs in the country.  

The Amparo judgments of the Mexican Supreme Court represent a triumph for public health and legal accountability. By affirming the constitutionality of FOPWL regulations, the Court reinforces the imperative of prioritizing consumer well-being over commercial interests. As Mexico charts a course towards healthier dietary practices, the rest of the world watches closely, recognizing the transformative potential of informed policymaking in shaping a healthier future. The rulings set a precedent for proactive government intervention in mitigating the burden of diet-related diseases. 

Note: This blog post was drafted based on the draft judgments available on the Mexican Supreme Court's website and for informational purposes only. As of the date of posting this blog post on GHAI's website, the final judgments had not been uploaded to the Court’s website.