Hollow Threats: Transnational Food and Beverage Companies’ Use of International Agreements to Fight Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labeling in Mexico and Beyond

Document Type : Perspective


1 School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV, USA

2 Ozmen Institute for Global Studies, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV, USA

3 World Public Health Nutrition Association, London, UK

4 Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA

5 Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA


In October 2019, the Mexican government reformed its General Health Law thus establishing the warning approach to front-of-pack nutrition labeling (FOPNL), and in March 2020, modified its national standard, revamping its ineffective FOPNL, one preemptively developed by industry actors. Implementation is scheduled for later in 2020. However, the new regulation faces fierce opposition from transnational food and beverage companies (TFBCs), including Nestlé, Kellogg, Grupo Bimbo, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo through their trade associations, the National Manufacturers, American Bakers Associations, the Confederation of Industrial Chambers of Mexico and ConMéxico. Mexico, as a regional leader, could tip momentum in favor of FOPNL diffusion across Latin America. But the fate of the Mexican FOPNL and the region currently lies in this government’s response to three threats of legal challenges by TFBCs, citing international laws and guidelines including the World Trade Organization (WTO), Codex Alimentarius, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)/US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). In this perspective, we argue that these threats should not prevent Mexico or other countries from implementing evidence-informed policies, such as FOPNLs, that pursue legitimate public health objectives.



See the Spanish translation in online Supplementary File 1.


  1. Taillie LS, Reyes M, Colchero MA, Popkin B, Corvalán C. An evaluation of Chile's Law of Food Labeling and Advertising on sugar-sweetened beverage purchases from 2015 to 2017: a before-and-after study. PLoS Med. 2020;17(2):e1003015. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1003015
  2. Universidad de Chile. Ley De Etiquetado: Cambios En Composición De Alimentos Y De Conductas Tras Su Implementación. https://inta.cl/evaluacion-de-panel-de-expertos-nacional-e-internacional-revela-cambios-en-composicion-de-alimentos-y-conductas-de-las-personas-tras-implementacion-de-la-ley-de-etiquetado/.  Accessed November 28, 2018. Published 2018.
  3. De la Cruz-Góngora V, Torres P, Contreras-Manzano A, et al. Understanding and acceptability by Hispanic consumers of four front-of-pack food labels. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017;14(1):28. doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0482-2
  4. National Manufacturers Association. Public Submission to Consultation on Mexico Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labeling 10 December 2019.  Accessed January 12, 2020.
  5. American Bakers Association. Public Submission to Consultation on Mexico Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labeling, 11 December 2019.  Accessed January 12, 2020.
  6. Krizanovic P. Mexico Food Industry Mulls Legal Fight over New Nutrition Labels. Just Food website. https://www.just-food.com/news/mexico-food-industry-mulls-legal-fight-over-new-nutrition-labels_id143074.aspx.  Accessed March 10, 2020. Published 2020.
  7. World Trade Organization (WTO). Technical Barriers to Trade. Marrakesh, Morocco: WTO; 1994.
  8. Thow AM, Jones A, Hawkes C, Ali I, Labonté R. Nutrition labelling is a trade policy issue: lessons from an analysis of specific trade concerns at the World Trade Organization. Health Promot Int. 2018;33(4):561-571. doi:10.1093/heapro/daw109
  9. North American Free Trade Agreement. Chapter Eleven: Investment. New York City, United States: NAFTA; 1994.
  10. Crosbie E, Sosa P, Glantz SA. Defending strong tobacco packaging and labelling regulations in Uruguay: transnational tobacco control network versus Philip Morris International. Tob Control. 2018;27(2):185-194. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2017-053690
  11. Crosbie E, Thomson G, Freeman B, Bialous S. Advancing progressive health policy to reduce NCDs amidst international commercial opposition: Tobacco standardised packaging in Australia. Glob Public Health. 2018;13(12):1753-1766. doi:10.1080/17441692.2018.1443485
  12. Labonté R, Crosbie E, Gleeson D, McNamara C. USMCA (NAFTA 2.0): tightening the constraints on the right to regulate for public health. Global Health. 2019;15(1):35. doi:10.1186/s12992-019-0476-8
  13. Carreño I, Dolle T. The relationship between public health and IP rights: Chile Prosecutes Kellogg’s, Nestlé and masterfoods for using cartoons aimed at attracting children. Eur J Risk Regul. 2017;8(1):170-177. doi:10.1017/err.2016.24
  14. Crosbie E, Glantz SA. Tobacco industry argues domestic trademark laws and international treaties preclude cigarette health warning labels, despite consistent legal advice that the argument is invalid. Tob Control. 2014;23(3):e7. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050569
  15. Crosbie E, Eckford R, Bialous S. Containing diffusion: the tobacco industry's multipronged trade strategy to block tobacco standardised packaging. Tob Control. 2019;28(2):195-205. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2017-054227
  16. Thow AM, Jones A, Huckel Schneider C, Labonté R. Increasing the public health voice in global decision-making on nutrition labelling. Global Health. 2020;16(1):3. doi:10.1186/s12992-019-0533-3
  17. Cosbey A. A Forced Evolution? The Codex Alimentarius Commission, Scientific Uncertainty and the Precautionary Principle. Winnipeg, Canada: International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD); 2000. https://www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/forced_evolution_codex.pdf.  Accessed 1 December 2019.
  18. Ahmed A, Richtel M, Jacobs A. In Nafta Talks, U.S. Tries to Limit Junk Food Warning Labels. New York City, United States. The New York Times. March 20, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/20/world/americas/nafta-food-labels-obesity.html.
  19. World Health Organization (WHO). Follow-up to the Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2013.