Italian Antitrust launches investigation into Nutri-Score food labelling system

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AUTHOR: Stef Bottinelli

The Competition and Market Authority (Autorita’ Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato – AGCM, the Italian Antitrust) has launched an investigation into the Nutri-Score food labelling system, claiming the alphabetically and colour-coded nutritional value label is misleading and will have an adverse effect on the sales, exports and consumption of national produce.

Italy has been particularly vociferous with regards to Nutri-Score, stating that labelling products healthy or unhealthy based on their content of fat, sugar and salt is limiting and incorrect.
Products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), are grouped together as unhealthy, although some may have good nutritional value whilst others may have none. Olive oil for instance would be labelled fairly unhealthy, and given a C score, as it’s a fat, but the scoring system wouldn’t take into accounts its health benefits.

Italy claims that 85% of its traditional national produce, such as cured meats like Parma ham, cheeses like parmesan and gorgonzola, and the aforementioned olive oil, would score badly under the system, although the produce is natural and not unhealthy just because of its HFSS content.

The Italian body Coldiretti (Confederation of Small Farmers) has underlined that Nutri-Score only focuses on very few ingredients, namely fat, sugar and salt, and calories, without taking into accountother ingredients that make up the product; portion size, and a person’s overall diet, which may very well include a variety of healthy foods, such as vegetables, and their lifestyle. The Confederation also points out that the Mediterranean diet, seen as one of the healthiest food regimes, includes olive oil and cheese, foods that under the Nutri-Score system are deemed of low nutritional value.

Last November Julien Denormandie, France’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, called for a review of Nutri-Score, paradoxically a system created in France in 2017, after complaints from French dairy producers who saw their products, such as brie, camembert and roquefort, labelled as unhealthy. Speaking to Le Figaro, Denormandie said the system is “not necessarily in accordance with dietary habits”.

Italy’s Minister of Agriculture Stefano Patuanelli’s stance is also decisively anti Nutri-Score. During the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in November, Patuanelli stated: “We have some bilateral plans, in particular with the French minister Julien Denormandie in view of the rotating presidency of the first half of 2022. One of the topics we will address will be the Nutriscore system, because we have to clarify that our position cannot be mediated. (Ours is) a strong opposition to putting a colour on food.

“Thinking of giving a value to food with a standard portion of 100 grams”, continued the minister,” is absurd, because I do not consume 100millilitres of olive oil with the same frequency with which I drink 100 millilitres of Coca-Cola. It is evident that this is the case: it makes no sense to put a label on food”.

Minister Patuanelli also added that consumers need a better system to make informed choices: “Nutri Score does not give correct information to the consumer and therefore it is the wrong tool, whilst the Nutrinform Battery (a labelling system shaped like a battery that gives the percentage of calories, fats, sugar and salt on food packaging) is a more complex tool and we can improve it. There is a way to improve it and make it easier to read, but the consumer needs to be informed, not influenced.”

Spain has also taken a stance against the Nutri-Score system, although mainly on the labelling of olive oil. However, according to Politico, in December Stefano Patuanelli stated in parliament that the Spanish Government had communicated to him that the country had changed its position and was now widely against the French nutritional labelling score. Italy believes that more European countries will oppose Nutri-Score in favour of a better and more realistic system that won’t penalise sales and exports of produce to foreign markets.

Although the European Union states that countries cannot impose their own food labelling systems to other countries, France, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands have adopted the French Nutri-Score.

The AGCM has now launched an investigation on the use of Nutri Score labelling into five companies: the Italian GS Spa, Carrefour Italia Spa, Pescanova Italia Srl and Valsoia SpA, French companies Diet Lab Sas andRegime Dukan Sas, English company Weetabix Ltd. and a German company that produces sweets. An investigation into French Yuka, an app that evaluates the nutritional value of foods based on Nutri-Score and offers healthier alternatives, has also been launched.

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