Food: the introduction of a common ‘report card’ in the Union promises to be spiced up

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Food: the introduction of a common 'report card' in the Union promises to be spiced up

The nutri-score already existing in France and in six other countries of the European Union could soon be exported to the other Member States. Problem: several of them are opposed to this food rating system, some even draw another proposal. Behind the apparent health problem lie colossal financial issues.

What is the selling point of Chocapic® cereals in France? Its inimitable chocolate taste? The energy they provide in the morning? No, it’s because they are now rated “A” in the ‘nutri-score’, as specified in the advertising spots and packaging. A good point indeed since most of the cereals consumed at breakfast have much lower notes. But basically, what is this nutri-score applied in some states of the European Union but refused by others?

Today, seven European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland) use this rating system for food products, which has led to the introduction of a five-color label and five particularly simplistic letters for the consumer. The scale goes from “A” in green to “E” in red. Like some school report cards.

In France, it is gaining ground

On the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, it is specified that this labeling developed in 2017 aims to “facilitate consumer information on nutritional quality (…) and encourage food companies to improve the nutritional quality of their products to have a better score”. Indeed, having a good rating is a valuable selling point. On the site of the Ministry of Health this time, it is specified that in “June 2020, 415 companies were committed to Nutri-Score in France. In June 2021, there are more than 700, representing 57% of the market share in sales volumes. »

Everyone gets into it. It is still necessary to master the criteria. The logo depends on the content (on 100g or 100ml of products) of nutrients and foods to promote (fibers, proteins, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, rapeseed, walnut and olive oil) and nutrients to limit (energy, saturated fatty acids, sugars, salt).

The European Commission and the European Parliament have taken an interest in this nutri-score and were to validate its application in the fall of 2022, but several countries refuse it. L’Opinion was already worried in October 2021 about an “upcoming battle” at European level. Is it possible to harmonize the food consumption of the 27 Member States with the same report card?

In Italy, it is unanimously denounced

Some products that are little processed and protected by controlled designations of origin (such as Lozère cheeses) find themselves very poorly rated with this system. Massimiliano Giansanti, president of the Italian Agricultural Confederation, is pungent in remarks reported by Il Foglio: “The nutri-score is against the Mediterranean diet and is based on the misconception that people choose foods based on the arithmetic calculation of calories and not for taste, tradition, lifestyle. Food is culture, not math. »

Does the ‘nutri-score’ risk differentiating the continent’s diets? The Association of Italian Cheeses of Protected Origin is equally worried. For the moment, the rule in force in the countries of the European Union is that of the European regulation EU n°1169/2011. It defines the rules concerning consumer information, allowing them to access basic information such as the nutritional declaration or the list of ingredients.

This information should thus be completed soon, but how? “The real European challenge is to find a uniform labeling system for all of Europe which is not penalizing and which promotes a healthy lifestyle”, considers Alessandra Moretti, MEP S&D. Like many Italians, she is opposed to the nutri-score notation.

“This system is in fact strongly requested by large multinationals and by large French and German retailers who have an interest in promoting this type of label in that it benefits many products that they make themselves with their own label. ». In this battle, health and major economic issues face each other, and lobbies are active behind the scenes. In the case of Chocapic®, so proud to display their new nutri-score A, the “LaNutrition” site highlights that the ranking criteria are not necessarily the best. “The Nutriscore is not a reliable nutritional index, in particular because it does not take into account the degree of food processing. »

Nutri-score Versus Nutrinform

The Italians did not sit idly by either. They suggest opting for another tool, the “NutrInform Battery”, which assesses not the food itself, but rather its weight within the diet. Inside the symbol are the percentages of energy, fats, saturated fats, sugars and salt provided by each serving compared to the recommended daily amount. A plurality of players (companies in the agri-food sector, nutritionists from the Italian Higher Institute of Health and the Council for Food Economic Research, Ministries of Agricultural Policy, Health and Economic Development) are at the origin of this innovation, which received the support of the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Latvia and Romania.

“We do not choose NutrInform because it benefits us, but because from a scientific point of view the Nutri-Score is wrong. The fact that it damages our exports is a serious consequence, however, secondary to the health of consumers. Moreover, sincerely, Italy is the origin of the Mediterranean diet, considered the best in the world”develops Ivano Vacondio, president of the Federalimentare Vacondio.

Among their criticisms, “the use of the color code” and “the generic reference to 100 gr, inappropriate for foods such as olive oil”. The President of Federalimentare Vacondio specifies that “The NutriInform does not classify any food as unhealthy per se, but illustrates the right amount to take daily”. What is certain is that with the ‘nutri-score’, many Italian products (Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma ham, olive oil) will end up with very bad marks, which could have consequences on the volumes exported.

A decisive report?

It looks like the ending is getting closer. “The Joint Research Center (JRC) of the European Commission has decided: a device such as the Nutri-score shows a real interest in consumer choices”, explains Joël Carassio of Public Good, citing the conclusions of a report by this organization. The lobbies will try until the end to influence the decisions of the European authorities. Or on the scoring criteria.

Perhaps the nutri-score will be adopted as a reference, but this will not pass without changes. At the end of July 2022, the seven countries already involved in this system adopted modifications to the algorithm, according to research carried out by the Independent European Scientific Committee, a group of experts “responsible for evaluating the scientific relevance of any request received. of the food industry, consumer associations and other stakeholders”, as specified by the French Senate. The room for maneuver of the nutri-score thus still seems substantial and the scoring criteria anything but set in stone. Ultimately, anything is still possible for Parmigiano.

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