The battle between pro Nutri-score MEPs and Italy keeps raging on

Green MEP Michèle Rivasi leads the coalition of MEPs who wants to make the Nutri-score mandatory at the EU level. [VAN DE VEL-EP]

A group of MEPs on Wednesday (15 January) spoke out against a fake news campaign by Italian politicians and stakeholders about the nutrition label known as Nutri-score, calling for it to be compulsory for all food manufacturers in the EU.

At a press conference held in Strasbourg on Wednesday, Green lawmaker Michèle Rivasi, who leads the coalition of MEPs supporting the Nutri-score, raised the stake identifying the new EU’s food policy, the Farm 2 Fork (F2F) strategy, as the perfect political framework to introduce an EU-wide nutritional label system.

On the same page was Croatian MEP for the socialist group, Biljana Borzan, who said that as MEPs they are going to ask the Commission to come up with a broad food labelling mechanism that includes nutritional aspects, in the context of the European Green Deal.

But according to Rivasi, there shouldn’t be a political instrumentalisation of the nutritional labelling and “fake news campaign” as it is already happening in Italy, where nationalist politicians like Matteo Salvini oppose the system.

Nutri-score has become a campaign issue in the run-up to elections in Emilia-Romagna, an Italian region whose local products might be affected by the proposed label.

The nutritional value of products is converted into a code consisting of five letters, from A to E, each with its own ‘traffic-light’ colour.

The system assigns a low score to foods with high energy content, saturated fat, high quantity of sugar or salt, rewarding the presence of fibres, proteins and percentage of fruit and vegetables instead.

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Addressing the plenary, an MEP from the right-wing Lega, Silvia Sardone, showed that a well-known product from Emilia-Romagna, the Parma ham, has received the letter D assigned with the colour orange because it is high in salt, while another processed canned sausage received a green badge, meaning it’s healthy.

“My group will raise barricades and move war in this House to safeguard healthy products, and therefore, Made in Italy ones,” she concluded.

Lega’s leader Salvini has also attacked Nutri-score, condemning it as being part of a ‘secret plan’ conceived in Brussels to damage the reputation of Italian food.

“A vote for Lega is a vote to defend our farmers’ products such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Parma ham, which someone in Brussels defines as dangerous,” Salvini wrote on his Twitter account.

However, Italy’s Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova has shown herself to reject the entire concept behind the Nutri-score, as it wouldn’t provide  full information to the consumer, who should know exactly what each food contains instead

“We’re now buying some time at the EU level because we want to convince other member states to adopt our ‘battery’ label,” she recently said in an interview to La Stampa daily.

The entire Italian agri-food system backs the battery scheme, which tries to give consumers the nutritional information based on the recommended daily intake.

Although challenged by Italy, the Nutri-score is currently the only nutritional label system tested in supermarkets’ aisles, enjoying a timing advantage in comparison to the battery system.

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Lawmakers from the Greens and the socialist group in the European Parliament push on Nutriscore to provide citizens with the EU-wide nutritional label system that is currently lacking. But potential discrepancies between the system and environmental policy are still open.

Serge Hercberg, a professor of nutrition at the University of Paris 13, considered the father of Nutri-score, was invited to the press conference to dismiss charges that Nutri-score is biased against the Mediterranean diet.

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

“But along with rapeseed oil, it has the highest score among vegetable fats, so we’re saying it should be preferred,” Hercberg pointed out.

As the bad ranking of olive oil is often compared by the Italians to the fact that sugar-free Coke received the letter A, he said that this kind of comparison does not make sense as fats should be compared with fats only. “You can’t dress a salad with Coke,” he said.

Hercberg added that some typical Italian products such as rice and polenta, are actually well ranked and that when it comes to cheese, mozzarella and ricotta have a high score.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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