French find fault in 4 or 5-class nutrient profiling

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Food

ANSES fails to back nutrient profile-based labelling systems
ANSES fails to back nutrient profile-based labelling systems
The French food safety agency (ANSES) has concluded two nutrient profiling systems won’t provide people with easily understandable grading of food into four or five classes depending on their healthiness.

The agency said the SENS (4 classes) and Modified 5C systems (Rayner’s score, 5 classes) essentially categorised foods in similar ways depending on their content of fat, sugar and salt and other nutrients like fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals, but such classifications would only be possible with full formulation information, rather than label information, which is all product classifiers would have to work with.

“it will not be possible”

“In terms of feasibility, for the SENS system and to a lesser degree for the Modified 5C system, the availability of composition data is the limiting step, ​since the [2011 EU food labelling regulation - Food Information for Consumers (FIC)​] does not make it mandatory to provide on the labelling all the data needed for applying the two algorithms,”​ ANSES said.

“Thus, apart from the food producer, which will have determined all these necessary data, it will not be possible to determine the food class solely from the data available on the packaging from 13 December 2016.”

It developed its opinion via consumer surveys and applying the two systems to 1066 foods.

The effort to better label food is part of a French government programme to reduce social inequalities in health. Called the French National Health & Nutrition Programme, it seeks “to promote accessibility to food of good nutritional quality, in particular by improving consumer information relating to nutrition.”

ANSES said: In France, the French Act of 26 January 2016 on the modernisation of the health system stipulates that this information may be accompanied by a supplementary presentation or expression using graphics or symbols, in order to facilitate consumer information and help them make fully informed choices.”

Ways to label

A 2014 report advocated implementing a labelling system based on Rayner’s score thresholds developed for the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), which led to a threshold algorithm which came to be ‘Modified 5c’. The report recommended a 5-colour labelling system and noted ‘modified 5c’ had high consumer acceptability although it has not been tested in any food market.

The French Trade and Retail Federation (FCD) has backed the 4-class SENS labelling system.

The agency was asked to give its opinion of the nutrient profiling systems by the Ministries in charge of Health, Food and Consumer Affairs.

It has also been asked to provide a further “comparative analysis of the relevance of these two systems, in nutrition terms, in light of the public health issues.”

That work is expected to be completed in autumn.

French food industry (ANIA) president Jean-Philippe Girard previously has opposed colour-based labelling. “We must avoid the pitfall of reducing it to five colours. Real condition experiments are needed to build a suitable and efficient device.”

The European Union has been considering nutrient profiling systems for more than a decade but it has stalled over appropriate labelling systems, nutrient thresholds for which foods may be able to bear claims and whether certain foods like high-fat cheese or high-fructose orange juice may be exempt from such regulation. 

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