Nutri-Score was first officially endorsed by France in 2017. Since then, the front-of-pack labelling scheme has been adopted by Belgium, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
However under EU food law, Nutri-Score and other such schemes are adopted on a voluntary basis only. According to a selection of MEPs, food manufacturers, academics, public health organisations, and civil society organisations, this means that ‘the full potential of the label to aid consumers remains unfulfilled’.
An almost 40-strong list of stakeholders has penned a letter to EU Commissioner for Health and Safety, Stella Kyriakides, ahead of the the forthcoming Farm to Fork Strategy, calling for the mandatory enforcement of Nutri-Score across the bloc.
At is stands, one in two European adults are overweight or obese. It is clear, according to the signatories – which include food giants Nestlé and Danone, and civil society lobbyist the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) – that ‘stronger action is required to stem the tide of this public health crisis’.
Obesity is a hot topic amid the current coronavirus pandemic, with fresh research revealing it to be the biggest risk factor for death from COVID-19 in under 50s. In the same study, obesity was also found to be the biggest risk factor in those aged 50-64.
In their letter to the Commission, the signatories stressed the importance of addressing unbalanced diets and malnutrition amid the virus outbreak.
“As Europe continues to confront the serious impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of the health of its citizens has been underlined more than ever,” they noted.
“We believe that food plays an important part in maintaining a healthy society, and that we must therefore empower citizens through the EU to adopt balanced eating and drinking habits by providing clear nutritional information.”
Nutritional labelling has been identified as one of the key policy tools that can help consumers make more informed, healthy food choices. And for the list of signatories, Nutri-Score is the frontrunner.
As rates of overweight and obesity remain worryingly high in the EU, it is essential we better equip consumers with tools such as the Nutri-Score to help them to compare products and make healthier choices in the supermarket. - BEUC Director General Monique Goyens.
Nutri-Score is a colour-coded, front-of-pack (FOP) labelling scheme designed to help busy shoppers make better choices at a glance.
The scheme ranks food from -15 for the ‘healthiest’ product to +50 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).
Research has revealed that in some countries, Nutri-Score is currently the best-performing scheme both in comparing nutritional quality between food products and in selecting ‘healthier’ choices.
However, not all of Europe agrees. In Italy, for example, concerns have been raised that the Nutri-Score systems poses a risk for Italian-made products.
Italian MEP Silvia Sardone believes the system to be ‘misleading and discriminatory’, exclusionary of healthy and natural foods – that have been eaten for centuries – from diets.
The MEP cited examples of ‘really healthy’ foods such as extra virgin olive oil, but also [Italian] specialities such as Parma ham, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Grana Padano.
“This is liable to foster bad diets, which would jeopardize not only public health but also the high-quality ‘Made in Italy’ production system”, she noted in a letter to the Commission.
FEDIOL, which represents Europe’s vegetable oil and proteinmeal sector, has also spoken out against the current Nutri-Score system. The EU trade association argues that the scheme makes it ‘impossible’ for single-ingredient foods such as vegetable oils and fats to improve their scoring above a ‘C’ or ‘D’.
The signatories of yesterday’s letter (27 April 2020), however, are convinced that Nutri-Score is the best labelling scheme currently available.
“Evidence from research conducted in several countries shows that Nutri-Score is the easiest label to understand and the best-performing scheme in aiding consumers to compare the nutritional value of foods and range of products,” according to CEO of Euroconsumers Ivo Mechels.
“And the results are concrete: it really makes consumers’ shopping baskets healthier! This is why we need Nutri-Score on all foods in the EU.”
Food giants back call for EU-wide scheme
A number of large food brands and supermarket retailers have also rallied behind the mandatory adoption of Nutri-Score across the bloc.
From the retail sector, Carrefour Belgium, Albert Heijn, the Dutch Food Retail Association, as well as Kaufland and Lidl in Germany, have joined in the mass call.
And in food manufacturing, Danone, Nestlé, and Fleury Michon are among the players backing EU-wide adoption of the scheme.
French dairy giant Danone has already started to rollout Nutri-Score on its Essential Dairy and Plant-based (EDP) products across Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Slovenia, and Switzerland, a company spokesperson told FoodNavigator.
“Essential Dairy and Plant-based constitutes an emblematic category of Danone and an essential part of its product portfolio. The discussions of a deployment on other categories are currently being assessed.”
According to Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber, ‘no system is perfect’, yet the company sees Nutri-Score as the best label currently available for people to compare products’ nutritional quality at a glance. “We support the call to make it mandatory in the EU.”
Swiss food maker Nestlé announced the implementation of Nutri-Score across Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland in 2019. Now, a few months on, the company said its first products with Nutri-Score labels FOP are reaching shelves.
"Nutri-Score helps people make good food choices and motivates food and drink companies to accelerate the development of healthier products,” noted Marco Settembri, Nestlé CEO for Zone Europe, Middle East and North Africa.
“Nutri-Score shouldn’t only help Nestlé to raise the bar. We’re inviting the whole industry to join us."
Nestlé’s plant-based Garden Gourmet brand, breakfast cereals NAT, Chocapic Bio, and Alphabet, and Buitoni and Wagner pizzas are among the first products to carry the Nutri-Score label.
The company expects Cheerios and Fitness breakfast cereals, and Nescafé and Nestlé Dessert lines to adopt the scheme by the end of 2020.