Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the subject of Nutri-score on the sidelines of the signing ceremony of the Quirinale treaty, which is expected to strengthen cooperation between Paris and Rome in key EU policies.
The choice of the type of nutritional label to be mandatory at EU level has created a wedge between Italy and France, with a battle raging between the Nutri-score system, developed and supported by France, and the Italian counter-proposal called Nutrinform battery.
“We will come back to this in more detail in the next few days, but it seems pretty clear that even France is backing down from this unhealthy idea of giving food a color and labeling it as good or bad without any real scientific method,” said the Italian agriculture. Minister Stefano Patuanelli.
Contacted by EURACTIV, the minister’s entourage confirmed that, during a telephone interview with Patuanelli, Draghi suggested that the French government could decide not to support Nutri-score.
“I think it’s really important, maybe today we still don’t fully understand the importance of avoiding the risk of Nutri-score becoming a labeling system,” Patuanelli said.
No comments were available from French officials. The French Minister of Agriculture Julien Denormandie recently opened up to a revision of the Nutri-score methodology because it is based on quantities leading to classifications which are not necessarily in accordance with eating habits.
“The French state will only make the Nutri-score mandatory when the EU does,” he said at a hearing with the French Parliament’s Committee on Economic Affairs.
In the context of the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F), the European Commission is expected to present a proposal for a bloc-wide harmonized food labeling system that will also take take into account the nutritional aspects of foodstuffs.
Currently, the labeling framework most likely to gain Commission approval is the Nutri-Score, which converts the nutritional value of products into a code consisting of five letters, from A to E, each with its own color, from green to red.
However, Italy led the charge against Nutri-Score, claiming the system penalizes some of the staples of the Mediterranean diet.
“We are grappling with enormous danger to all of our food production,” Patuanelli said.
Italians argue that the Nutri-score is biased against the Mediterranean diet because it assigns a low score to foods high in energy, saturated fat, large amounts of sugar or salt.
The main complaint from the Italian side is that extra virgin oil, an essential product in the Mediterranean diet, is classified with the letter D and the color orange.
For this reason, the Italian government has proposed to the Commission another program, called NutrInform, based on a ‘battery powered’ symbol which shows the consumer the nutritional contribution in relation to his daily needs, as well as the correct eating style.
During visit in Spain, experienced Italian Socialist MEP Paolo De Castro met with Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas to discuss how to “tackle Nutri-score, the enemy of the Mediterranean diet”.
Nutri-Score has recently come under criticism from Spanish producers, although the system was initially supported by the government in Madrid.
Two Spanish center-right European People’s Party (EPP) MEPs, Gabriel Mato and Juan Ignacio Zoido, have written to the Commission warning of the potential damage the Nutri-Score has caused to the famous Iberian acorn ham bellota.
The two deputies are calling for a review of the system so that it does not put ham at the same level as junk food.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]