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Recently in Chile, the so-called “Food Labeling Law” came into force, which obliges food companies to inform by means of an octagonal sign -located on the product’s packaging- whether it is high in saturated fats, sugars, sodium or calories. This initiative has caught my attention because after studying the legislative process, I have come across a food industry that has opposed this regulation for more than five years, and even after the approval of the law, several companies expressed their intention to leave the Chilean market.
What motivated Chile to pass this law? I believe that one of the biggest arguments are the problems of childhood obesity in Chile, where five out of ten children are overweight, according to the Ministry of Health of this country. In Colombia, one out of every six children suffers from childhood obesity and one out of every two Colombian adults is above their healthy weight.
This is evidence of the major problem facing consumer law worldwide: the asymmetry of information between manufacturers/sellers and consumers. Indeed, sales seem to be tied to the information, misinformation or assumptions that the consumer accepts as true about a product.
In our country, the Political Constitution is no stranger to the desire to provide truthful information to the consumer, since the main objective of article 78 was to protect the consumer by placing him on an equal footing with the producers or distributors of products. Similarly, the first article of the Consumer Statute establishes the consumer’s right to receive adequate information in order to make informed choices regarding what he/she consumes.
In view of the above, the following concerns arise: Would it be possible to pass a law in Colombia similar to the one in force in Chile? Would the large national and foreign business groups oppose the approval of this regulation, as they did in Chile? The opposition of the food industry in Chile was so great that it makes me think about the ethics of the companies in that sector, to what extent will good financial results be more important than public health?
We must speak of the loss of public health as a “hidden cost” that cannot be recovered and that in the long term translates into a loss of human capacity itself. Is it fair not to hold the food industry responsible when it did not adequately inform the consumer?
Therefore, if our legislation does not foresee any sanction for offering food that undermines human health, I consider that according to our Constitution and Laws we must take to reasonable extremes the obligation to inform the consumer, so that the consumer in a conscious exercise, makes all the necessary decisions to determine what he wants or does not want to consume, knowing beforehand what the consequences for his health would be, thus transferring the responsibility for the consequences to a user who has been duly informed.
I must warn that although our system has made progress, there is still room for improvement, since we are far from being able to balance the balance between companies and consumers. Health protection is a duty of the State, but it will not be achieved as long as we are uninformed consumers who have not understood what we have heard since we were children, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are”.
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By: Juan Esteban Vallejo

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