A Translational Coordination Mechanism promoting front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition label Nutri-Score has been set up in Europe.
Nutri-Score ranks food from -15 for the ‘healthiest’ products to +50 for those that are ‘less healthy’. Based on this score, the product receives a letter with a corresponding code: from dark green (A) to dark red (F).
To date, seven countries have pledged to support the body. These include Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.
The overall aim is to ensure the labelling scheme’s ‘efficient implementation’. To do so, the countries have set up a steering committee and a scientific committee.
The steering committee, which held its first meeting late last month, will coordinate the implementation and deployment of the Nutri-Score label. “Its objective is to facilitate the use of Nutri-Score by manufacturers in the food sector, to help small businesses, and to liaise with consumers, by implementing common and efficient procedures,” noted the body.
The scientific committee, which first met today (12 February), is tasked with assessing the ‘possible evolutions’ of the Nutri-Score scheme, for ‘better efficiency [concerning] the health of consumers, in synergy with dietary recommendations’.
EU-wide rollout impending
With more than 40 countries in Europe, one may wonder why just seven are backing the Translational Coordination Mechanism. And also, why isn’t the European Commission taking on this responsibility?
Well, for starters, the European Commission hasn’t yet made up its mind which nutrition labelling scheme it wants to rollout across the bloc.
Last year, the Commission revealed plans to propose a harmonised, mandatory FOP nutrition labelling scheme by Q4 2022. Its goal is to enable consumers to make health conscious food choices.
Despite rumours that Nutri-Score would be the FOP of choice, the Commission did not settle on the French-made system. Rather, at the time, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said: “We will not be recommending any specific type of front-of-pack scheme…going forward we will be launching an impact assessment on the different types of front-of-pack labelling.”
Why just seven countries?
Concerning uptake across the EU, it has become clear in recent months that not all European countries support Nutri-Score. While it is currently the label of choice for some big brands (think Nestlé and Danone) and countries, the scheme has been criticised by others in the bloc, including Italy and Sweden.
Italy, for example, prefers its own nutrition labelling scheme NutrInform. The system, similar to the UK’s traffic light scheme, uses columns or batteries to display the percentage of energy, fats, saturated fats, sugars and salt contained in a portion of product in relation to reference daily intake.
This time last year, Italian Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova described the scheme as being ‘far better’ than Nutri-Score. “It is not penalising, it does not give good or bad grades.” Further, the Italian Government suggested Nutri-Score is in opposition to the principles of the Mediterranean diet.
Sweden, on the other hand, advocates for its voluntary keyhole logo. Products that adhere to the scheme’s standards on fat, sugar, salt, fibre and whole grain content are eligible to carry the logo on-pack.
“Products have been developed over the years according to the criteria for the [keyhole] logo,” explained Veronika Öhrvik, head of the Keyhole labelling project at the Swedish National Food Agency, at a European Food Forum (EFF) event last year.
The criteria stipulate that all products containing cereals should contain whole grains. “We are concerned that if we can no longer use our logo, food producers in Sweden will not have any inventive to develop products with whole grains.”
‘Great news for consumers in seven countries’
Beyond the seven countries participating in the Translational Coordination Mechanism, Nutri-Score has also been promoted by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC).
At the same EFF event last year, BEUC Food Policy Offer Emma Calbert told delegates evidence shows it is ‘still the easiest label to understand’ and that a ‘strong level of scientific evidence’ indicates ‘it does make consumers’ shopping baskets healthier’.
Earlier today, in response to the pro-Nutri-Score allies’ announcement, Calvert said the “Nutri-Score countries” are clearly willing to increase the number of Nutri-Score labels of food products. “This is great news for the consumers who live in those countries, as more Nutri-Score labels on packages means easier shopping decisions. To help all consumers across Europe make informed decisions, a mandatory EU-wide front-of-pack nutrition label is the only way forward.”
The Food Policy Officer continued: “Nutri-Score has been recognised as the best label to help consumers improve the nutritional quality of their food purchases. To further protect the health of consumers, front-of-pack nutrition labelling should continue to evolve and improve in line with scientific knowledge. As such, it is very welcome that scientists will look at any potential improvements to the Nutri-Score.”