In the debate on junk food: civil society defeated at the hands of the food and beverage industry

May, 2019

In the midst of the World Cup and last year’s election campaign, there were not many people interested in what was happening in the Colombian House of Representatives. Bill 019/2017 was being debated, which sought to label ultra-processed food products when they had high amounts of sugar, fat, calories or sodium.

In 2016, Congress had already been in a similar situation, when a tax on sugary drinks that had the approval of then-President Juan Manuel Santos was dropped. But there was an important difference: that time the big financial conglomerates gave it their all and exerted their influence in the halls of Congress and the media, and the tax became national news. But this time the media was not paying much attention.

In the midst of this relative lack of interest, the discussion of that bill was co-opted by the factual powers in Congress, but was taken up enthusiastically by citizens on social networks, who built a narrative that was radically different from the establishment’s. Those are the main conclusions of this report on the debate prepared by Linterna Verde and funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

While the ANDI, Fenalco and some political sectors close to those trade organizations promoted a narrative about the initiative portraying it as an obstacle to job creation and an attack on entrepreneurs, people on social media interpreted the situation as a struggle between the ‘powerful’ (trade organizations, industrialists, etc.) and the rest of society.

The civil society organizations that supported the project managed to make #LeyComidaChatarra a trending topic on Twitter several times. Network users were almost always in favor of the hashtag, and, , the Red Papaz account was the most influential one in that discussion.