Diet is of great importance for prevention of lifestyle diseases, this is why the European Commission is planning to introduce additional labels on food products. They are supposed to make it easier for us to choose healthy food and to shape positive eating habits. One of the solutions discussed is the Nutri-Score system which, according to Polish farmers and processors, may mislead consumers. The threats the system is going to bring on were discussed on November 25, 2021 at the meeting of agricultural and food industry representatives.
“Is the Nutri-Score system a threat to natural products?” was the title of the webinar broadcast by portalspozywczy.pl on November 25, 2021. It was also the main question the representatives of farmers, processors and academia were asked. However, before the experts gave their answers, Joanna Olszak, advisor on nutritional law at IGI Food Consulting, had reminded what Nutri-Score was about. This is the food product label system invented by some French scientific institute, sorting products gradually from those encouraged for regular consumption to those recommended to be consumed rarely. They are labeled with colors from green to red and letters from A to E, informing consumers the best one are As on the green background.
Nutri-Score is going to make us eat worse food products
Unfortunately, the approach defined within Nutri-Score and regarding food nutritional value may hamper correct meal balance, as the system is too simplified and too excluding for some groups of food, the aspect highlighted during the discussion by Associate Professor Dariusz Włodarek, dietician and nutrition expert and Head of Food Science Chair of the Human Nutrition Institute at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences:
The green color is associated with safety and the “start” signal, even if a given product should be limited quantitatively, and the red color with danger and the “stop” signal, convincing us the product is dangerous. In fact, there are no products on the market, that endanger life and health, as each of them has its role within balanced diet. The Nutri-Score system may have negative impact on diet, because consumers will take from shelves only green-labeled products. I support the idea of consumers knowing what they can eat in small amounts and what without limits, for example vegetables or fruit that the Nutri-Score system discriminates as highly energetic. mentioned the expert.
Criteria disadvantageous for natural food
According to the webinar panelists, the Nutri-Score system assessment criteria themselves are too general and simplified, as each product is assigned positive points, e.g, for dietary fiber content, and negative points, e.g. for sugar content. However, value of fruit and their processed products is defined not only on the basis of natural sugar, but also the variety of nutritional ingredients, as it was reminded by Julian Pawlak, President of Polish Association of Juice Producers (KUPS). The representative of processors was also worried that Nutri-Score in the entire EU would hamper the conditions of the juice industry:
In Nutri-Score natural fruit processed products, e.g. juices, are red- and orange-labeled, together with food containing artificial sugar, because the system treats the both types of sugar equally, also ignoring other criteria, such as content of vitamins or other bioactive compounds that are present in juices in large quantities. The EU regulations prohibit to interfere in juice content. While other industries will modify their products strictly to match the system guidelines, we will get stuck within the Nutri-Score orange category , as Mr. Pawlak assessed. This aspect was also highlighted by Mr. Włodarek who presented the following exemplary product comparison:
Why are farmers afraid of the Nutri-Score system?
If the European Union decides to implement the Nutri-Score labels as a compulsory solution, demand for fruit for processing will surely decrease, resulting in a blow mostly for growers. Other producers will lose, too, and the most fears are present among the meat, dairy and food oil industries. Marian Sikora, Chairman of Federation Council of Agricultural Producer Industry Associations, paid attention to the fact that many Polish farmers may break under the pressure imposed by the Nutri-Score system requirements. They are currently producing non-processed high quality food that will have poor grades within the Nutri-Score classification, as meat contains fats and milk contains sugar. Nutri-Score will also bring losses to ecological farmers and traditional food producers, as they cannot modify content of their products.
Seeking better solutions
The webinar participants were also discussing how to handle with the food labeling in order to avoid controversies raised by the Nutri-Score system. They agreed customers’ needs and health were the key factors. It would be profitable to develop the assessment system that would be more complex, considering content of vitamins, product glycemic index and recommended daily amounts of products. This idea was supported by Witold Boguta, PhD, President of National Council of the Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers, who was afraid that 5 colors and 5 letters on food product labels were not a very good investment for future. The present young generation, raised in the culture of images, will not be wondering about actual roles of certain products in diet. They will immediately reach for A-labeled food, even if it has nothing in common with nature. According to the Polish agricultural and food industry, Nutri-Score constitutes a threat to not only for farmers or processors, but also to nutritional awareness of generations still to come.