NGO claims Health Ministry 'chickened out' of food-labeling reform

The plan will not be implemented as originally planned, nor will it be implemented on time.

Supermarket. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Health Ministry has been castigated by the movement Ometz – Citizens for Proper Administration and Social Justice, for “backing down” after being pressured by the food industry on the ministry’s plan to require manufacturers to show they are healthful or have too much salt, fat or sugar.
Dr. Moshe Gordon, chairman of the voluntary organization’s medical team, said one of the most important initiatives promoted by the Health Ministry and the National Diabetes Council was to mark the sugar content in different food types using teaspoon graphics with sugar.
“Everybody knows that sugar is one of the most harmful substances to health. After many discussions and meetings with the public council set up to recommend ways of improving the health status of food, it was decided to mark the sugar content on packages with graphic teaspoons, which would have been a clear and meaningful illustration.”
Gordon accused Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman of buckling under the pressure from food manufacturers and importers, adding that the ministry surrendered to those who care about their economic interests at the expense of public health. “The decisions taken are nothing but a total enfeebling of the committee’s recommendations.
“This backtracking is not due to the lack of budgets, but the failure to stick to principles for good health. We in the Ometz Movement call upon you and your ministry staff not to be deterred from withdrawing from a proper and important plan for maintaining public health,” he wrote to Litzman.
The Health Ministry spokesman said that while the teaspoon graphics will not appear, a number representing the amount of sugar would appear on the back of the product and that red or green icons, representing healthful or harmful, would appear on the front. But he said that the deadline for the implementation of the change will not be on time.
“Only soon will the Knesset vote on bills regarding food packaging, and then it would take time to implement,” he said.
A phone survey by the Israel Forum for a Healthful Lifestyle, meanwhile, has shown that 68% of the public believe that food product marking reform is important. A majority said they expect government ministries and ministers to strictly enforce regulations in the field of health.
The representative sample of adults taken by the Geocartography Research Institute, found particularly strong support for the reform, that was led by Litzman and ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, to mark the food products with green or red and graphic symbols for sugar amounts.
In addition, 73% of the public believe that marking food products will have a significant impact on food purchasing habits and consumption. Two-thirds of those questioned said that when the reform goes into effect and the food is marked, they will purchase more food products marked with green.
The survey results were released Tuesday at the annual conference that marks the opening of the International Diabetes Month.
Prof. Itamar Raz, president of the Israel Society for a Healthful Lifestyle and chairman of the National Diabetes Council said: “The dimensions of the obesity epidemic and diabetes are intensifying. We are at the beginning of a crisis, unheard of in the health system, in terms of morbidity and financial costs.
“The Food Marking Reform is a practical and important step in changing the eating habits of the Israeli public, in order to curb the extent of obesity and morbidity,” he said.
Raz added that he expected the Health Ministry to be criticized and put under direct and indirect pressure from the food companies and their representatives, various government ministries (law, economics and finance), and vested interests in the food sector, following the outcome of the survey. “The results of the survey prove beyond any doubt that the public demands the marking of products and understand its advantages.”