The original proposal, tabled by France Insoumise (LFI) Assembly representative Loïc Prud'homme, was titled ‘Bill to protect the population from the dangers of junk food’. However, the La République en Marche (LREM) majority in the National Assembly backed a series of amendments that limited the scope of the legislation and renamed it a bill to 'to improve the nutritional quality of food and encourage good eating practices'.
Revised text: Nutri-Score, reformulation targets and education
The biggest change the new legislation will usher in will be the mandatory requirement to display the Nutri-Score label on adverts for food products.
NutriScore ranks foods from -15 for the 'healthiest' products to +40 for those that are 'less healthy'. On the basis of this score, the product receives a letter with a corresponding colour code: from dark green (A) to dark red (F).
According to the revised text, adverts on the internet, television or other broadcast media will have to include Nutri-Score information. This will apply to any advertisements “broadcast from French territory and received in this territory,” the Bill stated.
This requirement will come into force in January 2021 to provide the food industry with adequate time to prepare.
However, a loophole has been provided: Advertisers can side step the Nutri-Score requirement if they pay a financial contribution that will be allocated to the National Health Agency.
The Bill also details a mechanism whereby French regulators will be able to set targets on reformulation.
Agri-food manufacturers will be obliged to report nutritional labelling data to the Nutrition Department of the French Observatory of Food Quality (OQALI), part of the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (Anses). From this information, OQALI will prepare an annual report on changes in the nutritional quality of foods. Anses will then set voluntary reduction targets for salt, sugar and unsaturated fat in popular products.
Finally, a third article provides for the introduction of nutrition education in schools. However, this will be optional and take place as part of after-school activities.
LREM has ‘almost completely emptied’ our bill
Responding to the vote, Prud'homme – who headed up the recent parliamentary enquiry into processed food - said the introduction of mandatory nutritional labelling was a “victory for health”. However, he noted: “Our [junk food bill] was almost completely emptied by the majority tonight. The lobbies still watch.”
Likewise, co-signatory of the original proposal LFI’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, stated: “Although LREM has partially emptied our bill to fight junk food, this proposal has just been adopted unanimously by the National Assembly. A small advance but an advance anyway.”
Perhaps most significantly, the original text would have banned the advertising of food high in sugar, fat and salt to children.
With one in six French children now considered overweight or obese, non-profit group FoodWatch denounced the Government’s move to “block” this as a “scandal”.
“There was a pure scandal tonight at the National Assembly: while MPs from various parties - LFI, LREM, etcetera - were in the process of agreeing to ban advertising and marketing targeting children for products that are too sweet, too fatty [or] too salty, the government simply deleted the article from the proposal law,” Karine Jacquemart, FoodWatch general manager, stressed.
The LREM approach which favours voluntary action “does not work”, she stressed.
“We need rules to protect children's health, and political courage. How many times will we postpone this decision?”