Brazil: Limits on Food Ads Shake Market Forces

"I'm Condimenting Myself". CC By Steve Snodgrass

The Brazilian federal agency regulating health, Anvisa, recently ruled [pt] that the advertising of soft drinks and food rich in saturated or transfats, sugar and sodium will change. By the end of 2010, the industry will have to adapt.

Particularly one point from the new set of rules generated controversy in the media:

-  whether in tv, radio or in print, food advertising should include warnings [pt], similar to those presented in anti-smoking campaigns. Sugar-rich products would show, printed on the packaging, warnings that the product contains too much sugar and increases the risk of obesity and cavities if consumed in large amounts.

The industry's reaction was strong: editorials in newspapers questioned the agency's mandate to change a federal rule that regulates advertising. Many issues are involved, from the rights of governments to interfere in the private lives of citizens, to the cultural traits of people who are used to consume tastier, albeit unhealthy food. Also part of this debate is the role of government to promote nutritional education and, as argues the government, the citizen's need for clearer information about food ingredients and how food affects the human body in order to freely choose what to consume.

Reactions in the blogosphere were diverse.

Libertatum [pt] speaks of an attack on freedom of expression and freedom of property.

Matrice [pt] presents some background information:

A publicidade desse grupo de alimentos contribui para a atual epidemia de sobrepeso e obesidade em crianças, que vem ocorrendo no Brasil e no mundo, o que fez com que a Organização Mundial de Saúde aprovasse, em maio deste ano, uma recomendação [en] orientando os países membros das Nações Unidas a restringirem a publicidade de alimentos direcionada a crianças.

The advertising of this type of food contributes to the current overweight and obesity epidemic among children, which has been affecting Brazil and the world. This led the World Health Organization to approve, in May 2010, a recommendation to the member states of the United Nations to impose restrictions on food advertising focused on children.

Blog do Ronaldo [pt] questions the effectiveness of such a campaign against the products that are the target of Anvisa's new rule.

arinelli [pt] comments on the industry's early moves:

Quando a Anvisa começou a levantar o assunto diversos fabricantes de alimentos – como a Nestlé, por exemplo – começaram a manifestar, publicamente, uma nova postura acerca da publicidade infantil. Algumas empresas assinaram acordos de não-veiculação de propaganda de alimentos que fosse direcionada diretamente às crianças e prometeram uma maior cautela na divulgação de itens do universo infantil.

When Anvisa began raising concerns on this issue several food manufacturers – such as Nestlé – began to express publicly a new attitude towards advertising to children. Some companies have signed pledges commiting to refrain from broadcasting or publishing advertising aimed directly at children and promised greater caution when directing messages to the age group.

Leonardo Sakamoto [pt] presents the industry's point of view and tries to catch what lies underneath:

"People shouldn´t be afraid of their governments..." CC by Carlo Nicora.

"People shouldn't be afraid of their governments…" CC by Carlo Nicora/Flickr.

Parte das empresas de publicidade e da indústria reclamam que toda essa movimentação é um atentado à liberdade de expressão. Mas, ao usar essa justificativa, o que elas acabam defendendo é o direito de ficar em silêncio para não se expor diante à sociedade. O problema é que essa omissão de informações acaba sendo um atentado contra a liberdade de escolha. Como é possível decidir se não há informação suficiente para isso nos rótulos dos produtos?

Some of the advertising agencies and the industry complain that this whole move poses an attack on freedom of expression. But by making this point, what they end up defending is their “right” to remain silent and avoid exposing themselves before society. The problem is that omitting information leads to an attack on the consumers’ freedom of choice. How can one decide if there is not enough information for [freedom of choice] in the products’ labels?

Radiomargarida [pt] makes a counterpoint to the industry's legal arguments:

Contudo, é importante que se diga que o setor regulado não está preocupado em garantir preceitos constitucionais ou defender a Carta Magna. Quer sim impedir a Anvisa de atuar no âmbito da regulamentação da atividade publicitária, seja ela relativa a qualquer produto ou serviço. Cervejas, remédios, alimentos. Não importa. O setor regulado não quer o Poder Executivo ousando imiscuir-se nesse assunto.

Nonetheless, it is important to say that the industry is not concerned with guaranteeing constitutional principles neither in defending the Constitution. What they want is to prevent Anvisa [pt] from making moves to regulate of advertising, no matter if it is related to a product or service. Beer, medicines, food. It doesn't matter which. The regulated sector does not want  Executive Power daring to interfere in this subject.

The Union's Advocate-General (AGU), legal defender of the Brazilian government's interests, manifested his opinion against Anvisa's resolution and recommended the suspension of its effects until it is further analyzed, in response to a consultation made by CONAR, the National Council for Advertising Self-Regulation. As a result, IDEC, a consumer rights advocacy institute, called on civil society groups to protest saying yes to the food advertising rule [pt]. These are the facts so far and the industry, the government and civil society are preparing their next moves. Do consumers, the citizens, have a say in this debate?

Chessboard picture. CC by paulasofiasimoes.

A complex game. CC by paulasofiasimoes/Flickr

This article was proofread by Janet Gunter.


  • Lars Petri

    To whine about freedom of speech violation or interference in the personal life of citizens on this topic requires immense chutzpah. It’s akin to whining that warning that cigarretes may kill you is a violation of freedom of speech.

  • Rodrigo

    In my opinion the complains are all about profit, I am sure the people will not complain if they are alerted that a product is not healthy or will make them fat. I am proud of my government once again. ANVISA is a very serious regulatory agency and they will fight for it.

  • I think it must have a place for the education provide from de Government in this area. Anyway, we already have so much information about the foods, magazines about health, sites, etc., that we can`t tell that people don`t have the knowlodge about what they are eating. Also, the fat problem can’t be delivery just in the food marketing. The beauty industry and other society problems can provoque a ansiosism and psicological problems that make some peoples eat more.

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