France might drop support for Nutri-score, say Italians

Nutri-Score is a nutritional labelling developed and proposed by France which converts the nutritional value of products into a code consisting of five letters, from A to E, each with its own colour, from green to red. [SHUTTERSTOCK/GRINVALDS]

The French government is mulling over the possibility of not backing the French colour-coded nutritional label Nutri-score as the new EU-wide food labelling scheme, according to Italy’s agriculture minister.

Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the topic of Nutri-score on the sidelines of the signing ceremony of the Quirinaly treaty, expected to enhance cooperation between Paris and Rome in key EU policies.

The choice of which kind of nutritional label should be mandatory at the EU level drove a wedge between Italy and France, with a battle raging between the Nutri-score system, developed and backed by France, and Italy’s counterproposal called Nutrinform battery.

“We will go into this in more detail in the coming days, but it seems quite clear that even France is backing away from that unhealthy idea of giving food a colour and labelling it good or bad without any real scientific method,” said Italy’s agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli.

Contacted by EURACTIV, the minister’s entourage confirmed that, in a phone call with Patuanelli, Draghi hinted at the possibility that the French government could decide not to back Nutri-score.

“I think this is really important, maybe today we still don’t fully appreciate the importance of avoiding the risk of the Nutri-score becoming a labelling system,” Patuanelli said.

No comment has been available from French officials. French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie has recently opened up to a review of the Nutri-score methodology as it is based on quantities resulting in classifications that are not necessarily in accordance with the dietary habit.

“The French state will not make the Nutri-score compulsory until the EU will do so,” he said in a hearing with the French Parliament’s economic affairs committee.

In the context of the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), the European Commission is expected to put forward a proposal for a harmonised bloc-wide food labelling scheme that will also consider the nutritional aspects of foodstuffs.

Right now, the labelling framework most likely to get the nod from the Commission is Nutri-Score, which converts the nutritional value of products into a code consisting of five letters, from A to E, each with its own colour, from green to red.

However, Italy has been leading the charge against Nutri-Score, saying the system was penalising some of the core products of the Mediterranean diet.

“We are struggling with an enormous danger for all our agri-food production,” said Patuanelli.

Italians argue that Nutri-score is biased against the Mediterranean diet as it assigns a low score to foods with high energy content, saturated fat, high quantity of sugar or salt.

The main complaint from the Italian side is that extra virgin oil, an essential product in the Mediterranean diet, is classified with the letter D and the colour orange.

For this reason, the Italian government has offered the Commission another scheme, called NutrInform, based on a “battery-powered” symbol that shows the consumer the nutritional contribution in relation to their daily needs, as well as the correct dietary style.

During a visit to Spain, experienced Italian socialist MEP Paolo De Castro met with Spain’s Agriculture Minister Luis Planas to talk about how “to tackle Nutri-score, the enemy of the Mediterranean diet.”

Nutri-Score has recently faced criticism from Spanish producers, although the system was originally backed by the Madrid government.

Two Spanish MEPs from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), Gabriel Mato and Juan Ignacio Zoido, wrote to the Commission to warn of the potential damage caused by the Nutri-Score to the worldwide famous acorn-fed Iberian ham bellota.

The two MEPs are calling for a review of the system so that it would not put ham at the same level as junk food.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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