NutriScore and nutrient profiles, updates from Brussels

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Yet another controversy raised by junk-food producers over NutriScore and nutrient profiles related to food is worth offering updates on the ongoing work in Brussels.

Nutritional security and prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) caused by unbalanced diets are the goals pursued by the European Commission, in line with the mandates received (1,2).

The NutriScore, while perfectible, is certainly useful for the said purposes. Insight.

EU Farm to Fork strategy, changes expected in labeling

Among other things, the EU Farm to Fork strategy, as noted above, calls for the European Commission to take action in 2022 on food labeling. To propose to the European Parliament and the Council to:

– Extend the indication of origin or provenance to meat and milk used as ingredients in other food products,

– Introduce harmonized and mandatory summary nutrition information on the front of labels. (3)

Nutrition information, a public health need

Nutritional education has failed, while junk-food supply dominates the shelves and is focused on with predatory marketing strategies(UNICEF, 2020), also denounced in vain by GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade) to the Antitrust Authority. (4)

It is therefore necessary to help consumers-children, young people and their parents first and foremost-to recognize HFSS(High in Fats, Sugar and Sodium) ultra-processed foods. In fact, their consumption must be avoided or at least minimized in quantity and frequency(FAO, 2019) to stem the
Global Syndemic
of obesity, overweight and related diseases.

Summary nutritional information, existing schemes

The golden rule for expressing to consumers, at a glance, the foods best suited to their nutritional needs has not yet been defined. Nevertheless, various synthetic nutrition information systems have been applied on a voluntary basis in different member states for several years. And the European Commission is now being asked to consider the most effective scheme. (1)

NutriScoreOf the various systems, the NutriScore is the one that has garnered the largest membership, even in countries with strong and distinctive food traditions. From France-where it was developed, by the National Public Health Agency
Santé Publique France
– to Spain and Portugal. But also in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

NutriScore, merits and areas for improvement

Several scientific studies have verified the effectiveness of the NutriScore in stimulating product choices with more balanced nutritional profiles, within each product category. (5) A French scientific study, among others, reaffirmed its complementarity with the National Guidelines for Healthy Eating. (6)

On the other hand, SAFE Advocacy Europe and others consider the NutriScore to be too simplistic, as it does not consider the greater value of natural or minimally processed products-including, for example, extra virgin olive oil-compared to ultra-processed products (7.8). Some adjustments have been introduced in the Yuka app where, in addition to considering the NutriScore, extra points are given to organic foods and foods free of food additives whose safety is debated.

NutriScore, possible exemptions

In Spain, the Ciutadanos party’s bill to implement the NutriScore is on its way to approval with a compromise amendment urging the government not to penalize foods and that characterize the Mediterranean diet. On closer inspection, it would suffice to exclude from the obligation to adopt this system the products specified in the so-called Single Common Market Organization (CMO) and the Fisheries CMO. Without, however, prohibiting its voluntary application, which may coincide with the interests of some operators and consumers themselves.

The Partido Nacionalista de Lanzarote in turn asked the executive headed by Pedro Sánchez to exclude from the application of the NutriScore system foods and food products recognized as PDOs and PGIs, due to the ‘impossibility’ of intervening in their composition or preparation to improve their nutritional characteristics. (9) Although some corrections on closer inspection respond to current consumer demand, as seen in the case of PDO hams.

Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling (FOPNL), updates from Brussels.

On 4/30/21, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides, in response to a question from a Hungarian MEP, offered some updates on ongoing work (10,11).

‘Improving consumer information and encouraging a healthy diet are important goals of the Farm to Fork strategy. (3) The Commission has announced its ambition to propose mandatory, EU-harmonized front-of-pack nutrition labeling (FOPNL).

The strategy does not recommend any specific type of FOPNL scheme, and no choice was made at this stage. This choice will be based on the results of an impact assessment, consultation with member states and stakeholders, and scientific advice [12,13]. (…) As announced in the initial impact assessment, [14] the possibility of applying specific conditions to certain categories of food will be examined.’

NutriScore, the appeal of the scientific community.

Nearly 300 European scientists-among nutrition and public health experts, joined by 26 scientific associations-made an appeal to the European Commission in March 2020. Europe-wide adoption of the Nutri-Score is the most appropriate choice to help consumers make healthier food choices and contribute to the prevention of chronic diseases. (15)

The five-color color scale with as many letters (ABCDE) is a very effective logo for communicating the nutritional quality of foods, with quick reading and interpretation. The scientific basis of this approach, which has been successfully tested and validated, may also be useful in establishing nutritional profiles that will be used to guide health policies, in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Interim conclusions

World Health Organization (WHO, or WHO) nutrition health policies-whose Nutri-Score is a reflection of-have only one enemy. In fact two, Big Food and
Big Alcohol
. The lucrative junk-foodbusiness is the only one to fear the nutrition policies of WHO-WHO and the European Commission, as seen.

NutriScore junk food

Farmers and ranchers, the producers of the traditional and characteristic foods of the Mediterranean diet vice versa, will only benefit from increased consumer attention to their foods as opposed to ultra-processed foods. They will perhaps be stimulated to improve them further, with a view to implementing the Nutri-Score on a voluntary basis. And health-as the pandemic has reminded us-is a priceless value.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) The general public is interested in the relationship between nutrition and health and the choice of a diet suited to individual needs. The Commission’s White Paper 30.5.07 on a European Strategy on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity-related Health Aspects (the “Commission White Paper”) points out that nutrition labeling is one of the main methods of informing consumers about the composition of foods and helping them make informed decisions’ (EU reg. 1169/11, Recital 10. See also Cons. 43-46).

‘By 13.12.17, in the light of the experience gained, the Commission shall submit a report to the European Parliament and the Council on the use of additional forms of expression and presentation, their effect on the internal market, and whether these forms of expression and presentation should be further harmonized’ (EU reg. 1169/11, art. 35.5)

(2) Reg. EC 1924/06, Article 4. V. Dario Dongo. Nutrition profiles, 10 years of absconding in Brussels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 19.1.19, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/etichette/profili-nutrizionali-10-anni-di-latitanza-a-bruxelles

(3) Dario Dongo, Marina De Nobili. Farm to Fork special, the strategy presented in Brussels on 5/20/20. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 5/24/20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/speciale-farm-to-fork-la-strategia-presentata-a-bruxelles-il-20-5-20

(4) Dario Dongo. Influencer marketing, our report to the Antitrust. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 7/25/20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/influencer-marketing-la-nostra-segnalazione-all-antitrust

(5) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. How to solve the nutritional conundrum? News on the label front, review and outlook. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12/29/20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/etichette/come-risolvere-l-enigma-nutrizionale-notizie-sul-fronte-etichetta-rassegna-e-prospettive

(6) Chantal Julia, Manon Egnell, Pilar Galan, Morgane Fialon, Mathilde Touvier, Serge Hercberg (2020). Front-of-pack nutritional label Nutri-Score and food-based dietary guidelines: complementarity and synergic objectives. Sorbonne Paris Nord University, Inserm U1153, Inrae U1125, Cnam, Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team (EREN), Epidemiology and Statistics Research Center – University of Paris (CRESS) – Bobigny (France), Public Health Department, Paris-Seine-Saint-Denis University Hospitals (AP-HP), Bobigny (France). https://nutriscore.blog/2020/03/05/front-of-pack-nutritional-label-nutri-score-and-food-based-dietary-guidelines-complementarity-and-synergic-objectives/

(7) SAFE Food Advocacy Europe response to Road map: Food labelling – revision of rules on information provided to consumers. 29.1.21, https://www.safefoodadvocacy.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/SAFE-Comments-on-Roadmap-on-FOP-Date-Marking-Nutrient-profiles.pdf

(8) Paulette Lenert, minister for consumer protection in Luxembourg, for example, pointed out that ”il faut éviter de tomber dans le piège du simplisme. Il nous faut bien expliquer les tenants et aboutissants du Nutriscore. Il tient compte de la quantité de sucre ou de la matière grasse comprise dans le produit, mais pas de la qualité ou des substances chimiques présentes dans ce même produit“. Le Quotidien. 12.2.20, http://www.lequotidien.lu/luxembourg/le-luxembourg-va-introduire-le-nutriscore/

(9) El Congreso insta al Gobierno a adaptar el sistema ‘Nutriscore’ a los patrones de consumo españoles. ConSalud.es. 19.4.21, https://www-consalud-es.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.consalud.es/politica/congreso-insta-gobierno-adaptar-sistema-nutriscore-patrones-consumo-espanoles_95475_102_amp.html

(10) Tomislav Sokol (EPP). Priority Question 30.3.21 to the Commission (P-001766/2021). https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-9-2021-001766_EN.html

(11) European Commission. Answer 30.4.21 by Commissioner Stella Kyriakides to Question P-001766/2021. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-9-2021-001766-ASW_EN.html

(12) On 14.12.20, the European Commission asked EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) to provide scientific advice on the development of harmonized mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labeling and nutritional profiling to limit nutrition and health claims on food synthetic nutrition information (https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/efsas-scientific-advice-inform-harmonised-front-pack-labelling-and-restriction) and the Joint Research Center To update the previous review of the scientific literature (see. https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/eur-scientific-and-technical-research-reports/front-pack-nutrition-labelling-schemes-comprehensive-review)

(13) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Safe and Nutritious Food – EU ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy, Public Consultation. 24.2.20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/cibo-sicuro-e-nutriente-strategia-ue-farm-to-fork-consultazione-pubblica. See also https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12749-Revision-of-food-information-to-consumers

(14) https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12749-Revision-of-food-information-to-consumer

(15) Call from European scientists to implement Nutri-Score in Europe, a simple and transparent front-of-pack food label with rigorous scientific support, intended to guide dietary choices and thus contribute to chronic disease prevention. Nutri-Score blog. 16.3.21, https://nutriscore.blog/2021/03/16/call-from-european-scientists-to-implement-nutri-score-in-europe-a-simple-and-transparent-front-of-pack-food-label-with-rigorous-scientific-support-intended-to-guide-dietary-choices-and-thus-contrib/