EPISODE I: A story of food labelling and sugar told by Javier Guzmán from VSF
VSF Justicia Alimentaria Global (Global Food Justice) is an association whose mission is to promote a fair development model for rural environments in pursuit of food sovereignty, as well as to raise awareness on solidarity among society.
We have spoken to Javier Guzmán, director of VSF, about many issues related to the food industry that are directly affecting us from various perspectives: socially, economically, environmentally, and healthfully speaking. This is the first episode of a series of publications, as the interview will be progressively published over the following weeks given its extension and the amount of valuable data and information contained in each of Javier’s answers.
Currently, VSF has several ongoing campaigns to protest against the unethical practices carried out by food companies, involving aspects as the labelling or the “hidden sugar” in the majority of their commodities, among many others.
QUESTION. The EU has a regulation on food labelling that states that companies must provide consumers with transparent and detailed information about the ingredients of their products. How is it possible that this [the excess of sugar we don’t see but ingest] occurs?
ANSWER. Basically, because the battle about labelling was won by the industry. In 2011, there was a big debate about food labelling and Big Food had certain objectives… No one was fighting on that information being displayed on labels, but on HOW that information is displayed. Consumers’ organisations were requesting that labels were placed on the front of the packages, in clear and legible print, in different colours, useful so that you can make a decision about what you are buying in few seconds.
They [the industry] ensured that labels were displayed on the back instead, in small print, with no colours, not very intuitive, and containing confusing information. Unless you bring a calculator with yourself it is impossible to know the amount of different elements on it. That is related to the interests of the lobby.
There is a key point: for years, in Spain and Europe we have been claiming the existence of the nutrient profiles, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends. These profiles tell us the amount of fat, sugar, and salt, and allow us to discern between healthy and unhealthy products. I believe they were approved in 2009, and they have been in a drawer in the EU since. They can be accessed and consulted, but there hasn’t been any regulation after their approval, because the lobby doesn’t want it; because in the moment that we are able to discern between healthy and unhealthy food, we will be able to regulate advertising of food aimed at children, regulate taxes, and bring up some policies that foster healthy eating while discouraging the opposite. But it is there, precisely, where the big industries have their large profits margins.
There is a question we need to ask ourselves. Sometimes, people may think that the EU and the states have a security apparatus in regards of food that protects consumers, but actually the reality is far from this idea. There are enormous levels of complacency and closeness to the industry, and we need to ask ourselves: “What interest does the industry have in protecting consumers’ health?”
MORE ABOUT VSF
As we have seen above, VSF fights in pursuit of food sovereignty, understood as a proposal to dignify the livelihood of farmers and to guarantee environmental, social and cultural sustainability of the right to food for the whole world’s population.
The association was founded in Barcelona 30 years ago, and their objectives are currently listed as follows:
- Work on a productive agro-ecologic strategy, without establishing differences between north and south.
- Support and strengthen farmers’ associations in their structuration and alliance processes in pursuit of food sovereignty.
- Claim the access of these farmers’ associations to the production resources, defending public policies such as those relating to agriculture, fishing and forests.
- Value women farmers work in different areas (familiar, social and agrarian) in order to wipe out any kind of oppression or discrimination against them.
- Foster critical thinking and activism by protesting against the agro-food industry and its business model at the expense of human health.