EFSA puts validity of European Nutri-Score into question with new study

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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The validity of the controversial Nutri-Score food and drink labelling system has been put into question once again, following a new report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The EU agency revealed its views on nutrient profiles in a Scientific Opinion report published recently in the EFSA Journal. It concluded that analysing the nutritional value of a whole diet, instead of single food products, is the best way to determine a good level of health.

Created in France, the Nutri-Score labelling system is an alphabetically coded score which ranks the nutritional quality of food and drink products per 100g from A to E. The EU Commission had previously proposed to make the label compulsory across the bloc towards the end of this year.

However the EFSA report, which was requested by the European Commission, has put into questions the efficacy of the scoring system.  

The study states: “Because diets are composed of multiple foods, overall dietary balance may be achieved through complementation of foods with different nutrient profiles so that it is not necessary for individual foods to match the nutrient profile of a nutritionally adequate diet.”

The organisation’s opinion comes as a great relief to the Italian Federalimentare which represents the country’s food and drinks sector. The new EFSA opinion on nutritional profiles confirms the validity of the Italian position on front labelling and rejects the Nutri-Score algorithm,” the Federalimentare said in a statement.

Italy has previously strongly condemned the Nutri-Score system, claiming the way it groups products that are high in fat, sugar and salt is misleading, as some foods have a better nutritional value than others independently of their HFSS content.

The country has claimed the scoring system would give 85% of its traditional national produce including cured meats, cheeses like parmesan and gorgonzola, and olive oil, a low score due to its HFSS content, resulting in lower exports.

Italy says this is misleading, as not all of these products are unhealthy. Olive oil, for example, would be given a C Nutri-Score due to its fat content. However, the product has many health benefits, such as lowering the risk of mortality from various diseases.

In March 2022, the Nutri-Score food labelling system also proposed to categorise all alcoholic drinks under the lowest category, “F”, which sparked anger from the wine industry in Italy and France.

The EFSA study also confirmed the importance of using the European Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) in determining the nutritional value of foods, which Italy’s alternative to the Nutri-Score system – the Nutrinform Battery – is based on.

Italy’s label displays the nutritional value of an overall diet instead of individual food products. It shows the levels of energy, saturated fats, sugars and salt in an individual portion of food, which are represented in the form of percentages using “battery” symbols to help consumers see how what they eat relates to the recommended daily intake.

The Federalimentare added: “As Italians we are happy that our approach based on clear and transparent consumer information is gaining acceptance.

“The Nutrinform Battery proposed by our Government is not based on mysterious algorithms but on information relating to the nutrient content of foods and their contribution to the overall daily diet based on the portions suggested by nutritionists.

“While to adapt to EFSA’s conclusions, the Nutri-Score algorithm should be completely revolutionised”.

EFSA’s rejection of Nutri-Score style labels was already made clear in an advice report published in 2008, where the organisation noted that giving a nutritional value to a limit of 100g of food was inefficient as it did not resemble the real portion sizes individuals tend to consume.

The Federalimentare concluded: “Perhaps it would be appropriate to exceed the nutritional profiles of foods per 100g as thought up until now (of which the same authority noted at the time the ‘intrinsic scientific limits’) and seek more effective and modern tools to regulate advertising claims, food labelling and nutrition policies in general.

“However, tools that, thanks to more solid scientific bases and the adoption of the concept of overall diet and portion, really have the capacity to favor the food education of citizens and the adoption of healthier diets”.

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