Stakeholders send letter to European Commission asking for standardized labeling across Europe

19 May 2020

A coalition of nearly 40 food and beverage industry titans sent a letter to the European Commission’s Commissioner for Health and Food Safety on April 27 calling for mandatory EU-wide adoption of consistent front of package labeling to combat the rising public health crisis of overweight and obese adults. Signatories include retailers such as Carrefour, Albert Heijn, Kaufland and Lidl as well as industry juggernauts like Nestlé, Danone and Fleury Michon.

The Nutri-Score system is one of many options that are seen across packaging in the European Union. In the Nordic countries there is the Nordic Keyhole layout and the UK uses a traffic light scheme. However, in the joint letter to Stella Kyriakides, the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, the group called for the Nutri-Score nutrition label to be mandated across EU member states.

Stakeholders send letter to European Commission asking for standardized labeling across Europe

This labeling system ranks products on a scale of -15 to +50 with the lower numbers indicating healthier products. Based on an individual product’s score, a corresponding color will be identified and highlighted. Colors range from dark green (A) to dark red (E).

Already, the Nutri-Score front of package labeling system, which is a voluntary option developed in France in 2017, has been implemented in Spain, the Netherlands, and Belgium. However, companies are also independently supporting the new labeling convention. Nestlé is introducing the label across products in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland this year. Similarly, Danone will roll out the system on its products sold in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Slovenia and Switzerland, according to Food Navigator.

However, Italian MEP Silvia Sardone has decried the standardization of this system throughout the EU saying that it discriminates against traditional Italian foods like Parma ham, Parmigiano Reggiano and olive oil. In response, Italy’s government has proposed yet another labeling scheme called NutrInform which uses a battery-shaped symbol to indicate a product's relationship with an individual’s daily nutrient needs.

In the letter supporting the adoption of the Nutri-Score system, the coalition notes that their choice to support this method is based on research. “Research conducted in several countries shows Nutri-Score is currently the best-performing scheme in both aiding consumers to compare the nutritional quality of foods across a range of products and to make healthier purchasing choices in the supermarket.”

Food Navigator reported that FEDIOL, Europe’s vegetable oil and protein meal sector representative body, noted that this labeling choice makes it “impossible” for vegetable oils and fats to surpass a ‘C’ or ‘D’ score.

Although there is recognition that the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis are occupying the majority of the Commission's efforts, the joint letter pushes for the immediate implementation of the system across EU packaging. “As Europe continues to confront the serious impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, the importance of the health of its citizens has been underlined more than ever,” argued the coalition.

A study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that obesity is the biggest risk factor for mortality from COVID-19 for those under 50. For those between 50 and 64, obesity was also identified as a major risk factor for death as a result of COVID-19.

To help combat the growing trend of obesity in the EU, the letter states that addressing poor diets through labeling is an effective way to address underlying societal concerns. According to the letter, “We believe that food plays an important part in maintaining a healthy society, and that we must therefore empower citizens throughout the EU to adopt balanced eating and drinking habits by providing clear nutritional information.”

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