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In the junk food debate: defeat of civil society at the hands of industry

In the midst of the World Cup and last year's election campaign, not many people were interested in what was going on in the House of Representatives. Bill 019/2017 was being discussed, which sought to put front labels on ultra-processed foods when they had high amounts of sugar, fat, calories or sodium. 

Congress had already been in a similar situation in 2016, 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 played hardball and exerted their influence in the corridors of Congress and the media, and the tax became national news. But this time the media were not paying much attention.

In the midst of this relative disinterest, the discussion of this bill was co-opted by the powers that be in the Congress of the Republic, but was enthusiastically taken up by citizens in social networks, who constructed a narrative radically different from that of the establishment. These are the main conclusions of this report prepared by Linterna Verde and funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation on this debate.

While Andi, Fenalco and some political sectors close to these unions pushed a narrative about the initiative that portrayed 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' (unions, industrialists, etc.) and the rest of society.

Civil society organisations supporting the bill managed to make the hashtag #LeyComidaChatarra trend several times on Twitter. Network users were almost always in favour of the tagging, and the Red Papaz account was the most influential in the discussion.