Israeli Lawmakers Approve New Unhealthy Food Warning Labels

Regulations warning consumers about unhealthy products are expected to deal a severe blow to Israel's food industry, but will only go into effect in 2020

File photo: A nutrition facts label displays sodium content in a supermarket in New York, U.S.
Bloomberg

After two years of often contentious debate, the Knesset Health, Labor and Welfare Committee approved regulations that will require foods deemed to have unhealthy levels of sugar, sodium or saturated fat to have red warning labels on them.

Lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday to back the measures, dealing a severe blow to the food industry that had lobbied intensely against it – and that vowed to try and take rearguard action starting next week to reverse the decision.

The only relief the industry got was a two-year delay in the regulations going into force and an exemption for foods sold in packages smaller than 25 square centimeters (about four square inches).

The labelling regulations were supposed to go into effect in three stages starting early next year, but an earlier law giving manufacturers and importers two years’ time from the end of the year that any labelling regulations are changed to ready themselves, forced MKs to push back the start of the regulations to January 2020. A second stage of tougher guidelines will go into effect a year later.

Dr. Hagai Levine of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians said he was disappointed by the delay. “It’s very painful that due to economic considerations protecting the public’s health has to wait two years,” he said.

The food industry fought hard against the labelling rules, urging a voluntary program instead of one mandated by the government that Israel should adapt the European approach of positive labelling for healthy foods instead of warning labels on food deemed unhealthy. It also sought to have the labels on the back of products.

Until Wednesday’s voting, Tnuva – Israel’s biggest maker of dairy products – had sought to exempt yellow cheese from the requirements, contending that although they have high levels of fat they also contain calcium that children should be consuming.

“We could find no justification for excluding the yellow cheese from the labelling. We could find no any determination by an independent professional that said that the amount of calcium in it justifies exclusion,” said Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov.