Lunch seminar with Alexia Brunet Marks


Obesity is one of the fastest growing public health concerns of our time. Diet-related chronic diseases account for sixty percent of deaths worldwide and are costing millions of dollars in rising medical costs. Globally, the FAO warns that with dietary patterns shifting towards fats, sugars and ultra-processed foods, more people, particularly in low to middle income countries, suffer from mineral and vitamin deficiencies, overweight and obesity. Even in the Nordic region, obesity is a concern. According to the results of a study by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, it is as just as common for adults to be obese as it is to be normal in weight.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that countries reduce exposure to, as well as the power of, marketing of foods that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugar, and salt, particularly to children. In response, countries are applying a mix of statutory, co-regulatory, and voluntary approaches to limit the influential messages food companies channel through their labeling in addition to other forms of advertising like product packaging, brand advertising and sponsorship. But these programs vary in success and gaps in accountability occur, particularly with voluntary systems. For instance, some multinational food companies are failing to commit to the adoption of standards to regulate the advertising of unhealthy food to children. There is a need for strong national standards for all food marketing channels, or for added accountability to the voluntary networks.

This Article has two goals. This Article begins with a taxonomy of global approaches to using labels on the front of the package to regulate the marketing of unhealthy foods and legal challenges to such regulations. It questions how and if a judicial precedent reached by international courts in one area of public health (like tobacco labeling) influences the decision to adopt labeling rules to protect other areas of public health (unhealthy food labeling). Next, the Article argues for the development for the proliferation of a standardized label for unhealthy foods, and for The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) to take the lead in standard development. The Article summarizes the legal challenges that a standard label may invite -- ‘barrier to trade’ challenges under World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments, or ‘indirect expropriation’ and ‘devaluation of intellectual property’ challenges under traditional Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs).  Along the way, the paper considers the role of international courts, and other international entities, in the formation of a transnational legal order to combat obesity.

All interested are welcome to attend. Registration is not necessary.