Online Program

Front-of-package nutrition rating labels: Analysis of potential conflicts with World Trade Organization rules

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 10:50 a.m. - 11:10 a.m.

Krycia Cowling, MPH, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Chile, Indonesia, Peru, and Ecuador recently passed legislation mandating front-of-package (FOP) nutrition rating labels on packaged foods and beverages. As other countries consider similar policies, it is critical to establish whether these comply with member states’ commitments to the World Trade Organization (WTO). This analysis examines WTO commitments, the legal arguments required to find violations under specific agreements, and identifies actions to facilitate FOP labeling policies’ compliance with WTO rules.

Recent discussions in WTO committee meetings and reports from the Office of the United States Trade Representative suggest mandatory FOP labeling policies may be challenged at the WTO in the near future. Rulings from previous WTO disputes suggest an uncertain outcome if a challenge is raised under either the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) or the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). In most countries, a significant proportion of packaged foods and beverages are imported, creating a potential violation of national treatment obligations in the GATT and the TBT. While unlikely to be litigated under the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), such a case would likely rule against FOP labeling policies due to insufficient scientific evidence.

WTO rules and jurisprudence suggest several avenues to pursue in order to align FOP labeling policies with WTO commitments. International standards should be developed and widely endorsed; voluntary use of labels should be expanded to increase public demand; and additional research should unequivocally establish the utility of FOP labels in combating obesity.

Learning Areas:

Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Identify nutrition policies that may be challenged at the World Trade Organization (WTO); Discuss policy constraints imposed by trade agreements; Describe actions to facilitate nutrition policies' compliance with WTO rules

Keyword(s): Nutrition, Public Policy

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a second-year PhD student in a Health and Public Policy program, which has trained me to conduct policy analyses on a variety of topics. Through one course in particular, International Trade Law, I learned how to construct arguments for WTO disputes, which prepared me to conduct the legal analyses in this study.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.