The five-color nutritional logo is the subject of a potentially improper commercial practice case in Italy. Behind this legal offensive, the weight of the food industry, opposed to this nutritional labeling.
We knew that Italy was against the Nutritional Score. In the land of cured meats, parmesan, olive oil and multinationals such as Ferrero (Nutella), successive governments and elected officials of all political beliefs shamelessly convey the arguments of agri-food producers fiercely opposed to Nutri-Score. But a legal offensive is now being added to the declarations and obstructions at the European Union (EU) level.
On 22 November the Competition and Market Authority initiated proceedings against French Dukan products (1) following reports from the Italian Union of Agricultural Cooperatives Confagricoltura and a small consumer association. But the complaints do not revolve around the potentially problematic allegations made by the Dukan company. They only aim for the nutritional score, affixed by the brand on its products. Its display would potentially be a “unfair commercial practice”.
Food industry topics
The Italian authority does not show great originality: it takes up the arguments used several times by the agri-food sectors of various European countries. So, criticize the Nutri-Score for calculating a score per 100g of food and not based on serving size. However, in her opinion, it would be nonsense to compare two products with each other. He also criticizes him for not providing information on the recommended quantity and frequency, for not being “accompanied by a warning or clarification that allows to contextualize this quantity and its nutritional intake” and give a “absolute judgment on the quality of a product. But simplified labeling is … simplified! It cannot convey all the recommendations for a healthy and balanced diet in one logo.
One of the arguments is more surprising. According to the notice, the logo “Suggests and implies the existence of a direct relationship between food and health”, what is true. But the Autorité believes that this could mislead the consumer, leading him to believe so “the product – simply because it is marked with green colors or the first letters of the alphabet – is the best for your health and, in any case, is to be preferred over other foods without this marker”. This would involve “Promote the purchase of products classified as” green “and disadvantage products classified as” yellow / orange / red “”. We do not dare to remember that this is precisely the goal …
Validated by the European Commission
But the Authority goes further. It implies that the nutrient score is not scientifically proven and that it could therefore “convey misleading and incomplete information, such as to significantly alter the consumer’s ability to make an informed choice”. This means quickly forgetting that the Nutri-Score has been validated by the European Commission, and the principle of simplified nutrition labeling, approved by the European Parliament. Serge Hercberg, emeritus professor of nutrition at Sorbonne-Paris Nord University and creator of the Nutri-Score, points out that “The Commission did not block” the Nutri-Score when notified by Member States wishing to implement it, “which shows that there are no inconsistencies with the regulations”.
Unique nutrition labeling within the EU
This new offensive must be placed in a European context, while the European Commission must review the INCO regulation by the end of 2022 and decide on a single nutritional labeling within the EU. Italy is the main opponent of this system. And there the transalpine policies do not succeed, transforming the stakes of health in defense of the interests of the nation. Deputies, MEPs, ministers, all multiply the attacks. Up to Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who wanted to reassure parliamentarians on the full awareness of the government “severity” what the Nutri-Score would represent for its agri-food sector – some of whose flagship products are poorly valued. Not to mention, Ferrero is omnipotent in the boot, with relays within the government. Proponents of the logo, including nutritionists, no longer dare to speak out for fear of reprisals, reports Serge Hercberg: “In Italy, the pressure from the government is very strong. It uses the pseudo-defense of traditional products to blast the Nutri-Score, because this logo disturbs their food industry. Italy has always blocked public health measures that harm its economic interests. But this takes on a considerable dimension for the Nutri-Score! “
This strategy is paying off. Italy has managed to rally several countries against the Nutri-Score: Greece, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic … To the point of paralyzing the Commission and other countries, and paralyzing any debate at European level. . Even the French Minister of Agriculture seems ready to go wild… Julien Denormandie had already supported the initiative of the AOP dairy sectors, effectively weakening the Nutri-Score, which however is supported by the French government. He did it again by recently declaring himself before the Economic Affairs Commission “that it is absolutely necessary to review the Nutri-Score methodology, based on volumes that are absolutely not in line with consumption practices”. Or those of the industrialists?
(1) Other proceedings have been opened against the Italian companies GS Spa, Carrefour Italia Spa, Pescanova Italia Srl and Valsoia Spa; the French company Diet Lab Sas; the English company Weetabix Ltd.; a German confectionery company and the Yuka app (which it launched in the Italian market).