The decree was signed in Paris by Agnès Buzyn, Minister of Solidarities and Health, Stéphane Travert, Minister of Agriculture and Food, and Benjamin Griveaux, Secretary of State to the Minister of Economy and Finance.
Detailing the decree, the French authorities said the scheme is the “most effective device” to improve the quality of nutrition standards. The government said that current labelling does not make it “easy” for consumers to understand the nutritional quality of the foods they are buying.
The government hopes that the new labelling requirements will make the nutritional content of food an “element of food choice” alongside price, branding, presentation and taste.
The Nutri-Score system was developed after Article 14 of the Modernisation Law for the health system, dated 26 January 2016, required the authorities to recommend a front-of-pack system of labelling that would be “simple” and “accessible for all”.
The new system includes a colour coded scheme, ranging from dark green to dark orange, associated with letters from A-E. Products designated with an “A” have the “best nutritional quality” while products designated with an E have “poorer nutritional quality”.
This scheme, it is hoped, will enable consumers to compare the nutritional quality of seemingly similar products.
Speaking ahead of the signing ceremony, Buzyn said that the Nutri-Score system would be a “valuable tool” in the prevention of non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes. An “unbalanced diet” and being overweight are “two major risk factors” in the development of cancers and heart disease, Buzyn stressed.
Travert added that Nutri-Score is a “concrete response” that places food “at the heart of public health issues”. He suggested that the system will contribute to the “evolution of consumption” as well as an improved supply of healthier processed foods.
The French government said that the scheme is being introduced on a voluntary basis to remain in-line with European Commission single market requirements. At the end of November, Buzyn met with European Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis to champion the programme at an EU-level.
Food industry commitment?
The French government said that Nutri-Score was developed following a consultation process that found it was the “best understood” labelling system of three trial programmes.
The system remains voluntary, however, and to date, only six food manufacturers and distributors have said they will adopt the scheme.
Auchan, Leclerc, Intermarché, Fleury Michon, Danone and McCain have said they will implement the Nutri-Score labelling on their products.
According to Fleury Michon, more than 60 of its products already carry Nutri-Score labelling. Danone said it will deploy the labels on its dairy products on sale in France in 2018.
Nutri-Score labelling has won the support of French food sector body ANIA, which said it was a “step in the right direction”.
The ANIA pledged to “support” companies that are adopting the scheme. However, the industry group also stressed that labelling was just “one tool” to change consumer behaviour and combat public health issues. The group also flagged the importance of education and technological innovation.
“No single food can be considered good or bad for health,” the ANIA added.