Greens, socialists back nutritional label despite environmental concerns

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MEPs from the greens and socialist groups in the European Parliament are lending their weight to a so-called Nutriscore, an EU-wide nutritional label system. But potential discrepancies between the system and environmental policy are still open.

In a press conference held at the Parliament on Thursday (7 November), progressive and green MEPs called for the signature of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “Pro-nutriscore” launched by some consumer associations.

The initiative aims to make the so-called Nutriscore mandatory for all manufacturers at EU level, but with just more than 76,000 signatures collected so far it is quite unlikely they are going to reach the 1 million needed to force a Commission legislative initiative.

However, the new executive is actually expected to launch a proposal in this domain in the context of its new EU food policy.

The Nutriscore 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.

This system, which was developed in France and is also being used in Belgium and Spain, is designed to make it easier for consumers to see at a glance which products are recommended and which should be avoided.

By encouraging people to choose the healthy option, proponents of the scoring system hope to combat obesity and diet-related diseases.

“When you are in a hurry you must make the healthy option the ‘easy’ option,” said Biljana Borzan, a Croatian socialist MEP who spoke at the event in favour of Nutriscore.

Monique Goyens, director general at the European office of the European Consumer Organisation, said that the Nutriscore is intuitive and accessible for all simplifying the choosing process: “All consumers need to know is that green means good.”

Meat: healthy or polluting?

However, Nutriscore raises some environmental concerns. Although the Greens have always backed a drastic reduction in meat consumption due to the emissions linked to livestock farming, meat products are often ranked with a high Nutriscore due to a high content of protein.

“But this is a nutritional, not environmental label,” Greens MEP Michéle Rivasi told EURACTIV on the sidelines of the conference.

Asked if Nutriscore matches her group’s position on meat consumption, she said that the Greens are not against meat but in favour of good nutrition.

“This system says people to choose A or B, but even E if they eat it once or twice. You don’t have to be a fundamentalist either,” she said, adding that if consumers want to eat meat, they could go for quality products thanks to Nutriscore.

“We’re more concerned if people are going to eat meat every day at every meal,” she added. Asked if people will be driven to buy more meat, she answered that food habits are changing quickly and people are already consuming less meat.

Improving Nutriscore

According to the MEP, there is also room to improve the current Nutriscore system by adding a reference to additives. “I discussed it with scientists and they say they have not strict scientific evidence: when we’ll have it we’re going to build it in,” she said.

Nutriscore is also an ‘adaptive’ tool, its promoters pointed out. “Perhaps in a few years, we will do another label that will integrate also climate-friendly products and the short supply chain,” she said.

Another Greens MEP, Benoît Biteau, suggested that Nutriscore labelling already has the potential to indicate environmental standards because food quality is intrinsically linked to production practices.

He cited the example of the ratio of omega fatty acids found in meat, a measurable indicator of healthiness, saying that this also serves as an accurate indicator of the farming methods used to produce the meat.

He said that beef produced from a less intensive, pastoral system contains a higher amount of omega 3, and is, therefore, healthier, whereas cows raised in an intensive system fed a diet of soy and grains produce meat with a higher amount of omega 6, which would, therefore, be awarded a lower Nutriscore.

“Good food, with a lot of organic material, antioxidant, micro-nutrients, vitamins is always better for health than food produced with intensive farming or monoculture,” Rivasi concluded.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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