Nutri-Score backed by European Public Health Association amid algorithm debate

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Nutri-Score is one of Europe's most popular front-of-pack food nutrition labelling systems. Source: Boarding1Now / Getty Images
Nutri-Score is one of Europe's most popular front-of-pack food nutrition labelling systems. Source: Boarding1Now / Getty Images

Related tags NutriScore Mediterranean diet Food labelling Olive oil

Love it or hate it, Nutri-Score is one of the most popular front-of-pack nutrition labelling systems for food and drink. Now, the European Public Health Association, a non-governmental organisation of public health institutes across Europe, has expressed its support for EU-wide implementation of Nutri-Score.

Nutri-Score is one of Europe’s most popular front-of-pack food nutrition labelling systems. The system, which grades food from A to F over how healthy it is, has been put into place on a voluntary basis in countries such as France and Germany, and has been used on many products by companies such as Nestlé and PepsiCo.

However, it has also been heavily criticised, with some claiming it discriminates against certain food products.

Now, the European Public Health Association is backing Nutri-Score for EU-wide implementation: “We urge the EU to move forward without delay in light of the harms resulting from unhealthy diets and the clear benefits of [FOP labelling]”​.

Does Nutri-Score discriminate against traditional foods?

Some people have pointed out that it is difficult, or even ‘impossible,’ for single-ingredient foods such as vegetable oils and fats to score highly.

Others have said that it discriminates against traditional foods. Many traditional foods are protected by geographical indications and quality schemes such as TSGs (Traditional Speciality Guaranteed) and thus cannot be reformulated to fit the standards of Nutri-Score. Products such as French cheese Camembert or Kalamata olives from Greece may be affected.

Nutri-Score ranks food from -15 for the ‘healthiest’ products to +40 for those that are ‘less healthy’. Based on this score, the product receives a letter with a corresponding code: from dark green (A) to dark red (F).

For example, Italy has long campaigned against the mandatory adoption of Nutri-Score, arguing that many of its traditional foods, such as Parma ham and Parmigiano cheese, would get low ratings. Italy even went so far as to argue that its traditional foods should be exempt. 

Back in 2020, for example, Massimiliano Giansanti, president of the Italian confederation of agriculture, Confagricoltura, publicly criticised the scheme​, saying that it was 'quite evident' that traditional and single-ingredient foods would be discriminated against. 

'Nutri-Score is not opposed to the Mediterranean diet' 

Serge Hercberg, a nutritionist who founded Nutri-Score, believes that it is the best front-of-pack labelling system for nutritional content, both for accuracy and appeal to consumers. 

"Numerous scientific studies performed over many years . . .validate the algorithm underlying the Nutri-Score calculation . . . and its effectiveness to help consumers make healthier food choices,​” he told FoodNavigator.

Additionally, consumers “appear to prefer simple, colourful and evaluative summary front-of-pack labels, which are more easily understood, than more complex, non-evaluative, monochrome labels​.”

Responding to criticisms that Nutri-Score discriminates against staples of the Mediterranean diet, such as olive oil and parmesan, Hercberg stated that “Nutri-Score is not at all opposed to the Mediterranean diet. On the contrary! The basic foods of this model are well classified by Nutri-Score​.”

However, “some lobbies try to create confusion between foods that are part of the Italian gastronomic heritage (parmesan, San Daniele ham, gorgonzola,...) and foods promoted by the Mediterranean diet model. It is in fact a misleading use of the concept of Mediterranean food.​” He stated that just because foods are part of Mediterranean heritage, it doesn’t mean they are part of the Mediterranean diet and have ‘excellent nutritional quality.’

He goes on to stress: “Italian olive oil is currently classified as #Nutri-Score C like all olive oils, whether Spanish, Greek, French, Portuguese or Cypriot. This is the best possible score for a vegetable oil compared to sunflower, maize, peanut, soy, palm oils​. “

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