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Debate over Misleading Mexico Food Labeling Gets Bitter over Sugar

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MEXICO CITY - Mexico's new food labeling rules were supposed to help fight an obesity epidemic, but activists and experts said Monday they may actually encourage the public to consume high levels of sugar.

The debate over sugar has grown bitter, in a country with one of the highest obesity rates in the Western Hemisphere.

The new label rules unveiled last week list the amount of sugar and other contents as a per cent of recommended daily intakes. The new labels will no longer list the weights of the ingredients, instead simply listing them as calories and percentages of recommended daily intake.

But the labels assume that an average acceptable daily consumption of sugar is about 360 calories, equivalent to about 90 grams of sugar.

The World Health Organization has proposed a sugar intake of as little as 100 calories or about 25 grams per day.

Almost three dozen public health and nutrition experts published a full-page ad in Mexican newspapers Monday saying the new rules "increase the risk of obesity and diabetes."

It said the labeling system "is difficult to understand and represents a serious risk to the health of Mexicans," according to the ad.

The government health agency responsible for publishing the new rules last week did not immediately answer calls for comment.

"This is terrible, because some people are going to see this label   and they're going to say, 'well, I'll drink this Coca Cola, because it is 70 per cent of my sugar requirement, and I can drink another 6 1/2-ounce one, to get 100 per cent of what they recommend I get of sugar,"' said Alejandro Calvillo, head of the Consumer Power activist group.    

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