Portal FoodFakty has reported on the problems that may arise from attempts to introduce a Nutri-Score system as a unified solution for the whole of the European Union. The problems of Nutri-Score in Italy, Spain and France are particularly evident.
5 proceedings on the Italian market
The Competition and Markets Authority (AGCM) announces that on 22 November 2021 opened five investigations into the use of the Nutri-Score system by the Italian company GS Spa , Carrefour Italia Spa, Pescanova Italia Srl and Valsoia SpA, French: Regime Dukan Sas and Diet Lab Sas, English: Weetabix Ltd. and a German confectionery company. Also analysed is the French application Yuka, which evaluates food products on the basis of a Nutri-Score system, presenting alternative products to those analysed, particularly when a low score is shown for the product originally analysed.
The Italian Antitrust Authority points out that in the Nutri-Score system food products are divided into five categories based on a score calculated using a complex algorithm that subtracts unfavourable elements (energy, saturated fatty acids, simple sugars, sodium) and favourable elements (percentage of fruit, vegetables, legumes and oil plants, fibre, proteins). Foods with very low scores and therefore with a predominance of favourable elements are assigned to category A (green) and those with the highest scores are assigned to category E (red).
The authorities are concerned that both the Nutri-Score system and the Yuka application provide an arbitrary rating for a particular food product. This rating is disconnected from the needs of the individual, does not take into account diet and lifestyle or previous diet. This can lead to consumers being induced to attribute positive or negative evaluations to specific products which are not in line with the truth or individual dietary needs.
The upper house of the Spanish parliament demands an end to Nutri-Score implementation
The Senate Health and Consumption Committee approved by an overwhelming vote at the end of October a motion calling on the government to stop implementing the Nutri-Score system as a nutrition labelling procedure until a European harmonized system emerges to avoid uncertainty for companies in the food sector and confusion for consumers.
Spanish politicians have called on the government to promote before the European Commission the adoption of a harmonized system that promotes the foods that make up the Mediterranean diet, protects protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications and therefore does not adopt or regulate any compulsory labelling system at national level until this system has been implemented.
The initiative has been supported by thousands of medium and small food producers who are looking to the future with uncertainty, and by consumers who, like the first group, are very concerned about the risk of a negative impact on Spain’s culinary heritage.
According to opponents of the Nutri-Score system, it is beyond dispute that foods should carry a nutrition label, but what is questionable and worrying is whether the Nutri-Score system is the most appropriate for our Spanish lifestyle and eating habits, and whether it is not time to regulate it.
Many foods included in the Mediterranean diet are under-rated by the Nutri-Score algorithm, among them ham, cheese or olive oil. At the same time , products such as chips or burgers from fast food chains or sweetened drinks are rated as healthy by the system. This raises the risk of wrong purchasing decisions by consumers.
Reflection of the authorities in France
French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie has called for a review of the methodology of the Nutri-Score labelling system stressing that if adopted at European level it should not penalize French products including PDO cheeses. Currently, the optional Nutri-Score system established at he initiative of the French government in 2016 particularly affects mountain products. The Nutri-Score methodology based on ingredient quantities results in the classifications which are not necessarily in line with eating habits, in this case cheeses are rated particularly poorly. According to the Minister the methodology of the Nutri-Score system needs to be reviewed , but it is also very important and should be defended because it results from consumers’ need for such information.