The European Union is seeking a consensual solution for nutritional labeling after rejecting the Nutri-Score, acclaimed by consumers in France, but the target of a slingshot led by Italy which sees it as a threat to its agri-food industry, but also its gastronomy.
As part of the "Farm to Fork" Strategy, the European Commission was to present a proposal for harmonized and mandatory labeling before the end of 2022 to fight against "junk food", but this proposal has been postponed indefinitely in 2023.
With its dots ranging from green to red, with letters from A to E, allowing you to assess the content of foods in "good nutrients" (proteins, fibres) and "bad" ones (sugar, salt, fatty acids), the Nutri- Score français was initially the favorite to be extended to all of the Twenty-Seven.
It has already been adopted by six EU Member States: France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Spain.
It was without taking into account the virulent opposition of Italy which succeeded in rallying Cyprus, Greece, the Czech Republic, Romania or even Hungary.
"The Commission is not going to propose the Nutri-Score" as such "not to put something on the table that polarizes the debates", announced Claire Bury, a Commission official for food sustainability, at the end of September.
However, according to 270 scientists who launched an appeal in favor of Nutri-Score on March 16, 2021, it is "the only nutritional logo in Europe to have been the subject of numerous scientific studies demonstrating its effectiveness, its relevance and its usefulness to consumers and public health".
"An intense lobbying campaign against this tool for the benefit of commercial interests has unfortunately blurred the cards", regrets Emma Calvert, of the European Consumers' Unions Bureau (BEUC), while in Europe obesity now affects one adult in four, according to the WHO.
Brussels is currently examining the various existing displays: the Nutri-Score, the main lines of which can always ultimately serve as inspiration, the green or black logos of the Nordic countries (less restrictive) but also the system defended by Italy , the Nutrinform Battery, which takes into account the portions potentially consumed.
From her electoral campaign, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had set foot in the dish, denouncing devices "discriminatory and penalizing for our agri-food system".
Powerful Italian industry and its giants such as Ferrero (Nutella, Rochers, etc.) would be affected and Rome also says it fears a devaluation of the flagship products of its gastronomy and of the Mediterranean diet (olive oil, honey, cheeses such as parmesan, Parma ham, pizzas...)
The Coldiretti, the main professional association of the agricultural sector in Italy, notes in this respect a paradox of the Nutri-Score which ends up "excluding from the diet healthy and natural foods present on the tables for centuries to favor artificial products".
An argument willingly taken up by several MEPs who suggest targeting ultra-processed foods and their marketing rather than local products. "The overweight of adolescents does not come from the fact that they eat too much camembert", ironically the MEP Irène Tolleret (Renew, liberals).
The idea would be to take into account the portions. For the time being, the French Nutri-Score effectively evaluates foods according to the same reference of 100 grams or 100 milliliters in order to promote comparisons, without taking into account the fact that some, such as olive oil or cheese , are consumed in small quantities.
In the meantime, time is running out: the Commission's proposal must be debated by the States and then submitted to MEPs whose mandate expires in 2024.
If the Commission misses the boat, "it will be a major missed opportunity to help European consumers, in particular the most vulnerable", regrets Emma Calvert.
Because during this time many countries are moving forward, sometimes with more ambitious measures such as in Chile, whose compulsory system since 2016 "is in the process of being the subject of similar laws in 32 states", according to Guido Girardi, the former senator for the origin of the regulations.
In Chile, the presence of a single black logo (high presence of calories, saturated fat, sugar or salt) on a product deprives its manufacturer of any possibility of advertising on television. “One of the consequences is that more than 20% of the products have been the subject of new recipes”, with less sugar or salt, specifies Mr. Girardi.
The Nutri-Score is only displayed on the packaging on a voluntary basis. Traditional regional products as well as major international brands of sodas or confectionery still refuse to do so.
03/09/2023 14:32:11 - Paris (AFP) - © 2023 AFP