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For our health and that of our children, let's refuse the Nutri-Score in Europe. This front-of-pack label (FOPL) system could become mandatory in a few months. A prerequisite of a FOPL is that it should no confuse consumers and that its efficacy has been proven. Not only is it ineffective, but it has counterproductive effects. By grading ultra-processed foods such as Chocapic as A or McChicken as B, the Nutri-Score sends the message that these foods are healthy. By grading a can of sardines in olive oil as C, it discourages consumers from buying a healthy food. Given its contradictions, the Nutri-Score undermines real nutrition education and has become a polarizing factor in the nutrition and health debate in Europe. We must act now to ensure that Europe adopts a less controversial label that truly protects consumers.
Given the urgency, the independent digital media LaNutrition.fr, together with international researchers, medical doctors, dietitian-nutritionists, is launching an international petition to stop the European Commission from making the Nutri-Score mandatory on food products. It calls for alternative front-of-pack label (FOPL) systems to be studied on the basis of the most recent scientific data.
Support this call by signing this petition and relay it on social networks using the hashtag #NoNutriscore
Why it’s urgent
The European Commission has the ambition to propose a mandatory nutritional labeling n in Europe by the end of 2022. Several systems are in competition, including the Nutri-Score, a five-letter, five-colour logo that manufacturers are free to place on the front of pack label.
The developers of the Nutri-Score see it as a powerful lever against overweight and chronic diseases, and some consumer associations see it as a way to force manufacturers to offer better products.
Unfortunately, neither of these objectives is likely to be met. In fact, the Nutri-Score has the opposite effect :
- The Nutri-Score judges the nutritional quality of a food on the basis of its composition in only a few nutrients, which is partial and secondary information, because a healthy food is above all a food that is not highly processed.
- The Nutri-Score algorithm can lead to ultra-processed foods being rated favourably (A or B), which are therefore harmful to health, making them appear healthy and encouraging their consumption (positivity bias).
- These ultra-processed foods are often rated higher than traditional local foods: for example, a low-fat industrial cheese that contains a lot of ultra-processed ingredients and additives will be rated higher than a traditional French, Spanish or Italian cheese.
- The Nutri-Score serves the interests of industrialists by encouraging them to reformulate their harmful foods as little as possible, in order to obtain a good score and use it as a marketing argument. For this reason, far from conflicting with the interests of industrialists, the Nutri-Score is actually supported by food giants such as Nestlé.
Yes, food is a pillar of our health and its quality must be improved for all Europeans. Yes to a reliable and effective front-of-pack label system :
- It should be in line (and not in contradiction) with food-based dietary guidelines.
- It should be scientifically robust with proven efficacy.
- It should be understood by and not lead to confusion with consumers.
Neither of these 3 factors are met by Nutri-Score.
Therefore;, the Nutri-Score system as proposed today must be abandoned in favour of a more relevant system. Let's demand together that the European Commission suspends the adoption of the Nutri-Score. Let us refuse to choose our products on the basis of an inadequate and misleading score. Let's demand an alternative simplified nutritional labelling. Sign the petition and circulate it, it is a public health issue!
LaNutrition.fr launched this petition on October 17 2022.
In detail: what you need to know about the Nutri-Score
How the Nutri-Score is calculated
The system used for the Nutri-Score is the one developed by the British Food Agency in 2009 to combat audiovisual advertising of sweet and fatty products aimed at children.
The British algorithm underlying the Nutri-Score is therefore based on the composition of a few nutrients in a food to define its nutritional quality. It results from a calculation reflecting the balance between nutrients considered unfavourable for health on the one hand, and nutrients considered favourable on the other.
- Criteria considered unfavourable: energy, simple sugars, saturated fats, sodium.
- Criteria considered favourable: percentage of fruit or vegetables or nuts used to make the product, as well as olive, rapeseed or nut oils, and fibre and protein content.
Thus, the Nutri-Score, thanks to a letter and a colour, positions the food on a 5-level scale ranging from :
- from the most nutritionally favourable product (classified A),
- to the least nutritionally favourable product (classified E).
The approach is commendable, but by focusing on the presence of a few nutrients in the food, it overlooks an essential characteristic: the degree of processing. By overlooking the degree of processing of foods, the Nutri-Score leads to particularly embarrassing contradictions that make it miss its objective and will lead to consumer confusion.
Problem #1: The Nutri-Score can grade ultra-processed foods A or B
Foods rated well by the Nutri-Score (A and B scores) represent about 30% of the industrial food offer (labelled products) in supermarkets (1). However, more than half of these highly rated foods are ultra-processed, according to a study of 28,747 foods (1). Among children's foods, 60% are ultra-processed. Examples of products that are problematic because of their high level of processing: sandwich bread, pan-fried gnocchi, surimi, nuggets, etc.
Problem #2: The Nutri-Score may penalise traditional foods
Conversely, according to the same study, more than 20% of the products rated unfavourably by the Nutri-Score (C, D and E) are not ultra-processed foods and, on the contrary, represent an interesting part of the preventive diet when consumed in appropriate quantities. This is the case, for example, with canned fish, butter, Roquefort cheese and Parma ham, but also with well formulated chocolates and biscuits.
Problem #3: The Nutri-Score is counterproductive in that it serves the interests of industry.
By singling out nutrients such as sugar, saturated fat and salt, the designers of the Nutri-Score think they are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, without taking into account the overall quality of the food, they are opening up a boulevard to industrialists.
An example is Nestlé.
In June 2019, after having long been a fierce opponent of the Nutri-score, Nestlé announced that it would finally adopt it. It then undertook to revise the "recipes" of its children's cereals, by increasing or decreasing the nutrients that are included in the Nutri-Score score, without touching the problem: the way its products are manufactured.
In 2020, Chocapic's Nutri-score will be changed from C to B. In 2021, it is Nesquik's turn to get the Nutri-score A!
With these two good grades, Nestlé obtains strong marketing arguments for its cereals. It sends the message that its products are of good nutritional quality and that children's health will benefit. It is a winner on all fronts.
Unfortunately the big loser is our health. All the disadvantages of ultra-processing remain. Both of these foods have undergone extensive processing that makes their glucose extremely available. These cereals have high glycemic indexes, which is not good for our health.
Problem #4: The effectiveness of the Nutri-Score is not proven
The effectiveness of the Nutri-Score touted by its designers is only hypothetical. They rely on studies that theoretically link the health status of the population to the consumption of foods that are well rated by the Nutri-Score (2) (3). This type of data does not make it possible to validate the effectiveness of the Nutri-Score in real conditions (4) (5) (6).
A study was conducted in 2021 in real supermarkets, to assess the effects of of nutrition labelling. In this study, four French front-of-pack labels (SENS, Nutri-Score, Nutri Repère and Nutri-Couleurs) were applied to four product groups in 40 supermarkets (7).
The results were disappointing. The nutrition labelling had a non-significant effect. The Nutri-Score led to a very small improvement (2.5%) of the quality of the shopping basket, which mainly concerned freshly prepared foods.
It had no influence in other product categories. It is unlikely that a 2.5% improvement in the nutritional score based on a few nutrients would have an effect on consumer health.
A European movement against the Nutri-Score
Seen from France, one might get the impression that there is an absolute consensus in favour of the Nutri-Score. This is not the case.
While seven countries - France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Spain and the Netherlands - are pushing the European Commission to adopt and impose it before the end of 2022, European scientists are opposed to the relevance of this system.
Nearly 200 Dutch nutrition researchers and more than 100 Spanish researchers, supported by the farming community, are calling for the suspension or withdrawal of the Nutri-Score.
They are all upset that olive oil, ham, Roquefort cheese or sardines in olive oil are rated lower than Nesquik cereals or Coca Zero.
Massimo Giansanti, president of the Italian Farmers' Federation, notes that the Nutri-Score frequently rates fake food better than traditional local food: "If we are saying that processed food is better than natural food, then we have a problem.
At a time when ultra-processed products account for a considerable proportion of the food sold in supermarkets (8), the Nutri-Score could, they fear, accelerate the decline of foods that are part of the European food culture, such as the famous Mediterranean diet.
In Spain, after the debate crystallised around olive oil, it is the products with designations of origin that are now taking centre stage. "Olive oil is good for your health, and cannot have a label that says it is bad," said Spanish Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzon in February 2021 after being challenged by producers. In Spain, olive oil will therefore be exempt from the Nutri-Score labelling requirement.
Suspending the Nutri-Score
Given its many weaknesses, the Nutri-Score is not the right tool to improve the nutritional quality of the food of the French and Europeans. The "patches" that its designers are planning to put in place to correct the most glaring errors will not change anything. There is a great risk of lowering the overall quality of Europeans' diets.
It is too controversial, including within French health agencies, to be adopted as it stands.
On 1 August 2022, the Italian competition authority (AGCM) ruled that Nutri-Score labelling must be stopped in Italy because it "misleads the consumer".
While negotiations are underway to impose the Nutri-Score in Europe, the signatories call on the EU to halt its adoption, and encourage consumers not to blindly rely on its letters and colours, which have been shown to be often misleading.
LaNutrition.fr: Who we are
LaNutrition.fr is an independent digital media, specialised in information on food and health. Every day, the editorial team analyses and puts into perspective the results of dozens of scientific and medical studies. It brings to light original and innovative information, often exclusive, in all areas of prevention: nutrition, physical activity, mental health, environmental health.
Supporters and first signatories
Thierry Souccar, scientific journalist
Pr Jean-François Narbonne, toxicologist
Angélique Houlbert, dietician-nutritionist
Hocine Sekkiou, dietician-nutritionist and cellular biochemist
Vincent Roubaud, Doctor of Pharmacy
Magali Walkowicz, dietician-nutritionist
Aris Christodoulou, President and founder of Siga
Pascal Goncalves, general practitioner, president and founder of BETO santé
Heather Noreen, co-founder of OuiChange Corp
Daniel Sincholle, Doctor of Pharmacy
Kelly Franck, food engineer, founder of Goûm
Stephan Peters, PhD Nutrition and health, Dutch dairy association (Netherlands)
Nicolai Worm, PhD Nutrition (Germany)
Me Eric Morain, lawyer and columnist for France Inter
Arnaud Daguin, former starred chef, expert in food strategy
Philippe Bardet, Director of the Gruyère Interprofession
English version - French version
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