A group of scientists have made another plea for making the colour-coded nutrition label mandatory for the entire EU, while southern EU countries vehemently oppose it, saying it puts the traditional Mediterranean diet at a disadvantage.
On Tuesday (16 March), 269 European scientists together with 21 associations of health experts signed a petition asking the EU executive to adopt the French Nutri-Score as the EU-wide food labelling.
The signatories, led by Serge Hercberg, a professor of nutrition at the University of Paris 13, considered the father of Nutri-Score, recalled that the colour-coded label is the only nutritional scheme that has been supported by numerous scientific studies published in peer-reviewed international scientific journals.
“Since Nutri-Score has entered the heart of European discussions, a number of political bodies, media and social networks have been the theatre of a series of violent attacks and smear campaigns aimed at discrediting and refuting it,” the petition reads.
The scientists’ coalition dismissed this kind of criticism as not constructive and merely aiming “to spread false claims without any scientific substratum”.
The Nutri-Score is a nutrition label that converts the nutritional value of products into a code consisting of five letters, from A to E, each with its own colour.
The system was developed in France and is now also used in five other EU countries – Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain.
This group of Nutri-Score users have recently established a transnational coordination mechanism to facilitate the use of the colour-coded label, hoping to get this adopted as the EU-wide mandatory food labelling.
Nutri-Score v. NutrInform
Although certain nutrition declarations are mandatory on foodstuff in the current EU legislation, further information concerning the nutritional properties of food can be displayed on the label on a voluntary basis.
The European Commission is expected to put forward a proposal for a harmonised food labelling scheme that will also consider these other nutritional aspects as they are considered useful to support public health objectives.
The Commission’s proposal is due in the fourth quarter of 2022 and will be preceded by an impact assessment and stakeholder consultations.
When countries like France, Belgium and Germany formally adopted Nutri-Score and informed the Commission, the EU executive assessed the system’s compliance with the EU legislation.
For this reason, the colour-coded scheme is considered as the labelling framework with more chances to get the final Commission nod.
However, in open defiance of the French Nutri-Score, the Italian government has offered the Commission another proposal for an EU-wide nutritional food label scheme, called NutrInform.
This is based on a “battery-powered” symbol which shows the consumer the nutritional contribution in relation to their daily needs, as well as the correct dietary style.
But the signatories of the petition said the NutrInform battery system is not supported by any scientific evidence whatsoever and is designed very similarly to the GDA/RIs system, whose inefficiency has been shown by numerous studies.
Southern Europe has been leading the charge against Nutri-Score, as it sees the system as penalising some of the core products of the Mediterranean diet.
One of the most vocal lawmakers against Nutri-Score, the experienced Italian MEP Paolo De Castro, told EURACTIV the letter by the scientists’ coalition was expected.
“We will keep saying that Nutri-Score is a mistake though,” he added.
To further widen the front of those who opposed Nutri-Score, he planned to meet, together with others, the newly appointed Italian agriculture minister, Stefano Patuanelli, on the eve of the Agrifish Council of EU27 ministers on 22 March.
Only in February, the European Commission received seven parliamentary questions against Nutri-Score, five coming from Greek MEPs, one from Italians, and one from Spaniards.
Nutri-Score has recently faced criticism from Spanish producers, although the system is backed by the national government.
Two Spanish MEPs from centre-right Europe’s People Party (EPP) Gabriel Mato and Juan Ignacio Zoido wrote to the Commission warning of the potential damage caused by the Nutri-Score to the worldwide famous acorn-fed Iberian ham bellota.
Both MEPs are calling for a review of the system that would not put ham at the same level as junk food.
Similarly, Greek MEP Emmanouil Fragkos asked the Commission if they are considering some form of compensation for the adversely affected Mediterranean food products.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]