An international labeling law is urgently required to reduce the complexities associated in labeling food products. Labels do not change the product or their contents or the benefits derived from its consumption.  The world needs to decide on:

  • metric versus imperial measurements
  • nutritional standards
  • GRAS products
  • acceptable fonts
  • what is essential versus non essential information and
  • all the other issues in the way of one label fits all.

For example, a can of red peas may require as many as five labels depending on which English speaking market its final destination is. Once we decide to export to non-English speaking countries another set of labels are required. Labels are costly and maintaining adequate inventories of each can be a nightmare. Of course a product can fail on the market leaving the investor with obsolete labels.

The standardization of labels would be a huge step in eliminating one of the biggest non-tariff barriers in existence today. Exporters could confidently place an international label on a package, brand it and be good to go-#perfectworld.  This, in comparison to having to keep labeling inventories respectively for the USA, Canada, UK, EU etc.

Here’s a little info about non-tariff barriers. Source:

Non-Tariff Barriers 

Exporting is a complicated business even with the existence of so-called free trade and all the existence of free markets and all of the other nice sounding attractive descriptions of the movement of goods between countries. Even though tariffs have been eliminated to facilitate trade, non-tariff barriers trip in and play a vital role in further restricting trade between countries.

Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) refer to restrictions that result from prohibitions, conditions, or specific market requirements that make importation or exportation of products difficult and/or costly. NTBs also include unjustified and/or improper application of Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) such as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and other technical barriers to Trade (TBT).

NTBs arise from different measures taken by governments and authorities in the form of government laws, regulations, policies, conditions, restrictions or specific requirements, and private sector business practices, or prohibitions that protect the domestic industries from foreign competition.

The advent of world free trade and non-tariff guidelines to protect borders, populations etc. can possibly have done more harm than good in facilitating world trade. It would seem that the latter is a better barrier than those it was designed to replace.

The challenge in arriving at an international label is to get countries to agree to disagree. A review of international label requirements for English speaking countries show that there are only a handful of issues that prevent a UK labelled product from being exported to the USA and vice versa.

Unfortunately, the larger countries are self-sufficient and do not have the motivation required to clear up the sticking points. In fact their regulators are the ones that create new internal regulations which exporters have to conform to in short order. In recent times, both the UK and the USA have been independently tinkering with their Nutritional Facts requirements and in the next few years these will become new tariff barriers. Of course, existing labels may become obsolete. If an international body determined what is an acceptable nutritional panel then if changes were required, it would be less chaotic.

At the end of the day, a can of red peas will provide the same amount of content, whether weights are declared in metric or imperial units of measure for nutritional value to whoever consumes it, regardless of its outer label.

System of Measurement

A convenient and simple starting point in the whole matter of international standards could be taken as the rationalization of the metric system versus the Imperial system.

I don’t believe the world of commerce will ever agree to go fully metric, as has been the case in the scientific world. Currently, dual labeling is accepted but the order of the declared net weight is an issue.

For example:

USA  requirement
4 oz 113 g
UK and others
113 g 4 oz

Maybe a coin flip or other criteria could resolve this sticking point!

Nutritional Facts

Nutritional facts/information are much more complicated as different jurisdictions have varying opinions on what should be declared and who is defined as the average human being the nutritional information should relate to. As knowledge of the value of food consumed to human existence has evolved so too has the regulations. For example, the same red pea does one thing for an average European and another for the average North American consumer.

Golan et al. (2000) argue that the effectiveness of food labeling depends on firms’ incentives for information provision, government information requirements, and the role of third-party entities in standardizing and certifying the accuracy of the information. Yet, nutritional information is valuable only if consumers use it in some fashion.

From a Jamaican exporter’s standpoint it seems that we are saddled with designing and populating two labels if we are to serve our main hard currency markets simultaneously. The good thing is that the CARICOM region seems to accept both for now, so we can always trade excesses in the region.


Jam-Mar Processing Limited - Contributor
Jam-Mar Processing Ltd is an export driven Jamaica company that contract manufactures Noodle Soups, CEECEE Ice pops, Annilu cake mix and bag drinks.

The views expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of JAMPRO

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