Philippines primed to put in place 'cigarette-style' health warnings on sweet drinks

By Lester Wan contact

- Last updated on GMT

DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez revealed that President Rodrigo Duterte gave the directive for health warnings on  sweet drink labels. ©Getty Images
DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez revealed that President Rodrigo Duterte gave the directive for health warnings on sweet drink labels. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Health Warning, Labelling, Philippines, sugar tax, SSB, Soft drinks

The Philippines' Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has announced that health warnings may soon be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), within the next one to two months.

DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez revealed that President Rodrigo Duterte gave the directive.

He said the President was concerned that most powdered juices contain high levels of sugar and could pose risks to health, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, powdered juices were sometimes given to the elderly and the sick, he added.

“If there’s high sugar it should be labelled in front, similar to cigarettes, ‘It can be dangerous to your health’,”​ he said.

Consulting stakeholders

Lopez said that the DTI would be issuing the order once stakeholders have been consulted.

“We’ll issue the necessary order in that regard but we’ll have to talk again to the stakeholders as we implement that directive from the President,” ​said Lopez.

“We will have to select which among these products, especially if the ingredient is really sugar and it’s not really clear on that product.”

Lopez added that the DTI would also coordinate with relevant agencies including the Department of Health (DOH) and its agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“It will have to be with the FDA of the DOH that will really execute this particular policy or ruling because they are in charge of labelling,”​ said Lopez.

He said the DTI would need one to two months to facilitate the implementation.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism (PSEDM) has welcomed the directive, calling the government’s move “helpful”​ and “timely”​ in view of the grow rate of diabetes in the Philippines.

Said PSEDM president Dr Mia Fojas, “Front of pack labels with warnings will be helpful to influence consumers to at least consider the nutritional value of the drink first before buying it.”

PSEDM data shows that there were 3.5 million diagnosed diabetes cases in 2016, which went up to 3.7 million in 2017. Furthermore, there is a projected 3.8 million Filipinos that are still as yet undiagnosed for diabetes.

Sugar tax situation

From the start of this year, SSBs have been taxed under the Philippines’ Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.

An excise rate of PHP6 per litre has been put on drinks containing caloric or non-caloric sweetener, and PHP12 per litre on drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup.

Apart from powdered juice, other common sugar-sweetened drink products include carbonated soft drinks and sports and energy drinks.

Previously, various parties had protested against the sugar tax, including the Philippine association of sundry shops and small eateries​, Pasco, which said that the tax puts the 1.3 million ‘micro-retailers’ in the country at risk of losing their livelihood.

Across the ocean, major beverage firms under the Australian Beverages Council have just pledged to reduce sugar content by 20%​ in all their non-alcoholic beverage products by 2025.

Recently, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) also said it plans to finalise its draft food labelling and display regulations for packaged food products​ — which includes red warning labels for high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods — within the next two to three months.

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