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By Carlene Davis

Packaged in a clear, plain plastic bag without even a name imprinted, these products are distributed to over 1,000 schools through a school feeding program by the Nutrition Products Limited (NPL), which operates under the Ministry of Education.—

Serious concerns are being raised about the lack of labeling on bag beverages being distributed to over 1,000 schools across Jamaica. Packaged in a clear, plain plastic bag without even a name imprinted, the products are offered through a school-feeding program by the Nutrition Products Limited (NPL), which operates under the Ministry of Education.

The beverages are listed as a juice drink on NPL’s website and are sold for $2 in the schools.

But several parents, school personnel and a registered nutritionist, Shannon Grant, are worried that they have no idea what the children are consuming, because the bags are completely blank.

“We don’t know the ingredients or the nutritional content of these products. It makes no sense whatsoever for a nutritional company to be distributing something to children that has no form of labeling to indicate what they are consuming, and especially now with this drive by the Government to get persons to eat healthier,” Grant shared with The Sunday Gleaner.

“For instance, they say one of the bags has mango juice and the other has pineapple juice, but how do we know what is what, especially because they both have the same color?”

However, acting deputy chief education officer at the Ministry of Education, Maxine Headlam, said that the lack of labeling was deliberate in order to keep the cost low, but they are now re-examining that position.

“There is a task force that is led by the permanent secretary, we meet with Nutrition Products Limited on a monthly basis to look at the whole operations, and we are working towards addressing some of those issues,” said Headlam.

“With the move from the Ministry of Health now to make sure that you have front-of-package labelling and everything, our ministry is now moving in accordance with those standards to make sure that we do packaging with nutrition labels and all those things on it.”

Nutritionist Shannon Grant

Nutritionist Shannon Grant



However, Grant is positing that the ministry’s reasons for the lack of labelling was just an excuse, as there were other means to get the information out to the public.

“You have a website. Even if you don’t want to put it on the label, you can post it on the site and parents can access it. Yes, labelling is expensive, but they do have some products with labels on it, so why is there an exception?” she asked.

The nutritionist also pointed out that the fact that the beverage was listed as juice drink and not fruit juice means that it was not 100 per cent natural juice and that sugar has been added.

“It has been this way for years because I used to go to a primary school and we used to get it, but now with the whole sugar crisis and the sugar craze, you don’t know exactly what is in the products,” she said.

“If you are having two of these and say the recommended intake for sugar for the children should be 15 grams, we don’t know how much is in that one beverage. We need to know what the children are consuming.”


Headlam is maintaining that the sugar content of the beverages is within the limit.

“It is within the standards, because the Bureau of Standards works closely with NPL, so if they were doing something outside of the standard, they would have told them. You have to remember that the products from NPL are fortified, they are enriched in terms of vitamins and iron,” she said.

The bag beverages, along with banana muffin and bulla cakes are among the food items distributed five days per week to the schools.

“The idea was really to address those children who would fall within the social security net, so we have to make sure that what we give has high nutrition value, but at the same time, we recognized that people are becoming more aware and we need to look at labeling and so that we are doing that now,” Headlam said.




The issue of allergy is also a concern for Grant.

“Yes, you know it’s a bag beverage. It could be pineapple or mango, but at the same time, there is no labeling to say exactly what is in it. A student might be allergic to it. They are blindly having these meals and teachers are not sure, parents are not sure, students are not sure,” said the nutritionist.

“On the breakfast muffin, there is a little bit of labeling saying that it contains egg, but that’s it. You don’t know if it’s the carrot muffin or the banana muffin. Students out there have allergies. What if you give a child a product and he’s allergic to banana or carrot?”

However, Headlam is pointing out that the issue of allergy has to do with communication.

“Parents have to say to teachers, ‘when you are giving my child, please make sure that if it is pineapple, he doesn’t get it because he cannot have pineapple’. That is something as simple as that, the communication,” she said.

Dr. Christopher Tufton

Dr. Christopher Tufton



Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton said that the concerns were valid, especially in light of increasing awareness that the consumption habits of young people directly affect their health.

“The National Food Industry Task Force, which was established over a year ago, has generated a report which, among other things, has recommended consultation with manufacturers around labeling and nutrition requirements for packaging, so there is a process now in train and we need to follow through on that to make it universal,” Tufton noted.

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