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Peru: Is Junk Food Synonymous with Freedom?

[Links are to Spanish-language pages, except where otherwise noted.]

Peruvian gastronomy [en] is a hot topic both in and outside the country. But lately, the culinary theme on everyone's lips has not been the quality of the dishes or the traditional ingredients—instead it is the recently adopted legislation of President Ollanta Humala, known as the Law for the Promotion of Healthy Eating by Boys, Girls, and Adolescents.

The law, whose wording was published on May 17, states that its objective is to “effectively promote and protect people's right to public health and proper growth and development through education, strengthening and fostering physical activity, establishing healthy food stands and lunchrooms in elementary and secondary educational institutions, as well as monitoring advertising, information, and any other practices related to food and non-alcoholic beverages targeted at children and adolescents.”

Once the law was adopted by Congress on May 2, congressman Luis Galarreta declared that it had a “completely interventionist vision that I think jeopardizes both the media and its financing.” At the same time, the former Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism, Alfredo Ferrero, argued that the ambiguities of the law could “affect broadcasting of the Brazil World Cup in 2014.”

Foto de Lokendra Nath Roychoudhury, lokenrc en Flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Photo via Lokendra Nath Roychoudhury, lokenrc on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Peru's national association of industries (SNI in Spanish) has requested a repeal of the law because, by prohibiting the sale of packaged food in schools, it encourages the consumption of unregulated products to the detriment of the health of school children; and moreover, schools are not in a position to assume the task of feeding children. 

On the other hand, Fernando Leanes, a representative from the Pan-American Health Organization (OPS in Spanish) and the World Health Organization (WHO) supports the law and declared that “(we are trying to avoid) silent diseases such as diabetes or hypertension that can contribute to children developing health problems when they are 40 or 50 years old.”

In social networks opinions are equally divided, and the debate is seasoned with pictures of succulent sandwiches and other fare usually labeled junk food. On Twitter Miguel Mellado (@miguelm1504) expressed an opinion apparently shared by many:

@miguelm1504: Ningún publicista o medio de comunicación va estar a favor de la ley sobre la comida chatarra.

@miguelm1504: No advertising professional or media outlet is going to be in favour of a law on junk food.

On Facebook, writer Sonia Luz Carrillo shared her feelings while watching a television interview on the subject:

La publicidad de los productos menos saludables y hasta francamente dañinos a la salud según los especialistas – nutricionistas debidamente acreditados, por ejemplo- es uno de los principales ‘alimentos’ de las empresas de comunicación, especialmente la televisión. Eso explica la campaña en contra de la Ley y cualquier otro dispositivo que coloque la necesidad de conocimiento conveniente para que el público pueda optar por una alimentación saludable.

The marketing of products that are less healthy and frankly almost harmful to our health according to experts—certified nutritionists for example—is one of the main sources of fodder for the communications companies, especially television. This explains the campaign against the law and whatever other measure there is that makes it possible for the public to find out how to make healthier food choices.

The controversy grew when Cardinal and Archbishop of Lima Juan Luis Cipriani [en], declared that it has been a while since he has eaten junk food and believes that much of it is harmful, but at the same time he is against legislating what people can or cannot eat. 

In a widely discussed article shared on social networks, the advertising professional Robby Ralston wrote that in his view the law was poorly conceived, which “leaves so many grey areas that can invite criticism”, adding that “this leads inevitably down the road to advertising censorship and corruption”. Finally Ralston mentioned that “what really bothers me is that they are limiting my freedom to advertise and above all the freedom of Peruvians to see and enjoy advertising.”

The journalist Isabel Guerra commented on Facebook, echoing another of Ralston's arguments:

El Tribunal Constitucional ha despenalizado las relaciones sexuales presuntamente consentidas con menores de entre 14 y 17 años. Ahora tenemos una ley que supuestamente prohibirá que a esos mismos menores se les venda “comida chatarra”. Es decir, un adulto se puede llevar a la cama a una nena de 14 años, pero no le puede vender un pan con hot dog… :S #yodigonomás :S

The Constitutional Court has decriminalized presumably consensual sexual relations with minors of 14 to 17 years of age. Now we have a law that supposedly prohibits the sale of “junk food” to these same minors. In other words, an adult can bed a 14-year-old girl, but cannot sell her a hot dog on a bun…:S #yodigonomás (that's all I have to say) :S

The discussion reached a new low when a journalist tweeted a photo of Presidente Humala's daughters and commented that one of them seemed to be overweight. The tweet garnered a battery of criticism.

Given that the Ministry of Health has 60 days to issue the regulations for the Law for the Promotion of Healthy Eating, debate and pressure from various interest groups is expected to continue.

Original post published in Juan Arellano's blog Globalizado.

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