Health Minister Presents Regulations for Labeling Food, but Without Launch Date

Regulations include red labels for products containing lots of sugar, saturated fats and sodium, but don’t yet include green labels for healthy products

A supermarket in Tel Aviv, 2016. Even if the legislation to label unhealthy foods comes into effect in March 2018, it is likely to be another year before red labels appear.
David Bachar

New food regulations in Israel will require that red labels be placed on products rich in sugar, saturated fats and sodium, according to the plan Health Minister Yaakov Litzman presented to the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Sunday.

The label will be placed on the front of the package.

During the first 18 months of the reform, products containing more than 800 milligrams of sodium, 22.5 grams of sugar or 6 grams of saturated fats per 100 grams will have to carry the label.

The thresholds will be reduced thereafter to 500 milligrams, 15 grams and 5 grams per 100 grams.

While Litzman reiterated that the regulations will come into effect next March, his plan listed no specific date.

The Health Ministry said it could not publish a date because the Justice Ministry had decided the final date could not be set until the consultations required by law are completed.

Because the food labeling law passed in 2014 requires a 12-month lag time between final approval of the regulations and their entry into law, the March target date is not realistic. However, if the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee approves, the Health Ministry can move up the date if a clear and present danger to public health is perceived.

Additionally, the regulations do not discuss using green labels to mark products that actually meet Health Ministry standards.

The Health Ministry has apparently not finalized the criteria for labeling such products, although it was supposed to do so by August. The ministry said on Sunday it expects to finalize the criteria in the coming weeks.

Food industry officials expressed resentment about the omission of any reference to the green labeling from the regulations. They claimed the issue was covered in previous regulation drafts, but was deleted from the final draft. They also believe the green labels will not come into effect at the same time as the red labels.

One major company executive said he believed the green-label criteria were omitted because the Health Ministry’s deputy general realized the reforms would be further delayed if he had to wait for the standards to be finalized.

A Health Ministry official noted that in contrast to the red labels, which are mandatory, the green labels will be voluntary and therefore legislation for them was less urgent. Still, the official added, the ministry is working to make sure the labeling begins on time.