Nutri-Score creator backs alcohol warnings on label as Italian wine sector brands any move ‘an affront’ to science

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

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GettyImages-Stockbyte

Related tags: nutri-score, Wine, Italy

Italian wine makers have lashed out at ‘insulting’ Nutri-Score proposals to add a black ‘F’ to alcoholic drinks as a warning to consumers about the damaging effects of alcohol even in moderate amounts.

Pietro Paganini, Founder and President of European think tank Competere, called the move an “affront to science and the wine sector”​, adding it would represent a worrying “anti-alcohol orientation”​ by European authorities.

“Over the years, science has highlighted the importance of wine within a balanced diet,”​ he said, adding that Nutri-Score is a “arbitrary and misleading”​ labelling system that “tramples on”​ the rich social and economic heritage of Italy’s wine sector.

“We learned with amazement and bewilderment the attempt to apply in the worst possible way a discriminatory, penalizing and fundamentally wrong system like the Nutri-Score also to alcoholic beverages”​, declared Micaela Pallini, President of Italian wine federation Federvini.

“It is an affront to the intelligence of consumers,​” she added, and “a slap in the face for a sector that has represented, for centuries, not only an economic wealth, but above all a model of life and civilization. Labelling a food or a drink in red, or even black as in our case, means to pillory and criminalize a product without associating it with the methods or occasions of consumption".

Italian producers of foods such as olive oil, Parma ham and Parmesan cheese have long railed against the Nutri-Score system of food labelling, which they believe unfairly discriminates against these products. French Roquefort producers have also recently complained the labelling system -- which classifies food and beverages according to their nutritional profile using a scale of five colours and letters -- marks an attack on France’s national agricultural and gastronomic heritage. 

Now it seems it’s the turn of Italian alcohol producers. Giovanni Busi, president of the Chianti Consortium called Nutri-Score’s move into alcohol warnings “a new attack on the Italian, French and Spanish wine industries.”

'No alcohol consumption without health risks'? 

But Nutri-Score supporters questioned the timing of the attacks. They come just days before a European Parliament vote on 14 February that will likely see MEPs adopt a report from the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA), already approved by the European Commission last year, which concluded that there is no alcohol consumption without health risks.

Camille Perrin, Senior Food Policy Officer at consumer organisation BEUC told us: “The proposal to use Nutri-Score on alcoholic beverages was first raised in the French media by the developers of the label back in 2018, to the best of our knowledge. Yet, it does not look like this has been seriously considered by the French authorities.

"We are a bit surprised by the controversy that erupted over the weekend around this when, at the EU level, we are yet to obtain that alcoholic beverages simply carry a nutritional declaration and list of ingredients – like all other foods and drinks. We are not aware of any EU-level discussions on extending front-of-pack nutrition labelling to alcoholic drinks.”

Nutritionist Serge Hercberg, one of the developers of the food labelling system, confirmed that Nutri-Score is looking to label alcoholic beverages to warn against their consumption.

“All alcoholic beverages are demonstrated, among them wine, to have deleterious effect on health even low doses, especially for cancers,”​ he told this publication.

"This does not mean that we say not to drink them or ban them,"​ he explained. The warning, he said, was instead designed to "fight the current trivialization of alcohol consumption and the difficulties to understand the message that alcohol abuse is dangerous to health. In France, alcohol is responsible of 41,000 deaths yearly, with 16,000 linked to cancer. It is the first cause of hospitalization and the same for all European countries.”

European regulations currently mean alcoholic beverages containing more than 1.2% alcohol are not currently covered by the Nutri-Score. Hercberg explained the designers of Nutri-Score have proposed that all alcoholic beverages be marked with a black F reserved exclusively for beverages that contain alcohol even in small quantities.

In order to properly inform consumers, he suggested the containers of all alcoholic beverages must indicate: the quantity in grams of alcohol and sugar, the number of calories and a black Nutri-Score F reserved for beverages containing alcohol even in small quantities.

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