Food labeling: a petition to make the Nutri-score mandatory

Food Labeling: A Petition To Make The Nutri Score Mandatory

The UFC-Que Choisir launched this Monday with six other European consumer associations a petition to ask the European Commission to generalize the Nutri-score, a food labeling system “having proven itself”, according to the associations. Objective: one million signatures.

They hope to put the European Commission “up to the wall” and force it to respond to them. Seven consumer associations, including the UFC-Que Choisir, launched a “” petition on Monday. The goal: for the European Union to impose simplified Nutri-score labeling on all food packaging, “in order to guarantee quality nutritional information to European consumers and protect their health”.

Representation of the Nutri-score as it exists in France. Public domain

The Nutri-score is therefore this labeling system present in France since 2017, since the promulgation of the scope by the then minister, Marisol Touraine. However, the Nutri-score is not compulsory, “due to current European regulations”. Since last year, this labeling system, invented by the epidemiologist specializing in nutrition, Serge Hercberg, has also been found in Belgium and Spain. It is characterized on the basis of five letters (from A to E) and a color code, from green to red, depending on the nutritional quality of the food. Clearly, the more the food is too fatty, too sweet, too salty, the more the cursor will become red.

Optional, therefore not very useful

But while many scientific and specialist studies praise this labeling system, judged in particular as the clearest of all invented systems, its non-compulsory nature makes the measurement more or less sterile. Indeed, since its promulgation in 2017, the Nutri-score has not attracted a crowd of industrialists. According to a 2018 study by, out of the 28 food sectors defined by the Observatory, only seven show a proportion of references with the Nutri-score that exceeds 10%. Concretely, 20% of compotes use Nutri-score, 12% of ready meals, 17% of mash and potato-based products. Most of these products come from distributor brands such as Intermarché, Leclerc or Auchan. “These are mainly foods whose Nutri-score is close to the best score, due in particular to the strong presence of vegetables”, emphasizes Olivier Andrault, in charge of food and nutrition within the UFC-Que Choisir. With the exception of Fleury Michon delicatessen which has directly adopted the Nutri-score.

Conversely, the food families whose nutritional quality is generally less strong use the Nutri-score: only 4% are found among dairy products and yogurts, 4% in breakfast cereals, 3% in cookies / cakes, and 1.9% in sodas, the latter known to be particularly too sweet. Among the brands that have opposed the Nutri-score, we can notably mention Coca-Cola, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé or Unilever.

European cacophony

In terms of packaging of goods, it is the European Union which, via the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) based in Parma, Italy. Until then, legislation in this area was national, but in order to develop the European market, the rules had to be harmonized. The new legislation applied in 2011 is included in the maximum application regulation: everyone must respect it.

British traffic light models adopted in 2005. Laure Séguy

After six years of research, Laure Séguy understood the difficulties linked to the subject of labeling of food packaging. “Historically, concerns about nutrition developed in the early 2000s, but it took many years for everyone to come to an agreement,” she explains. According to her, “the British were the forerunners with their strict food packaging regulations put in place as early as the 1990s”. The former researcher quotes in particular the system of “Traffic light”, or traffic lights: boxes representing the rate of sugar, salt or fat in the food in question, and colored in green, orange or red depending on whether the rate is good or not for health. The ancestor of Nutri-score, in short.

Example of labeling in GDA format. Laure Séguy

This system was initially the one that was to be generalized within the EU. “Except that Italy and France, large food producers, have stepped up to the plate, to defend gastronomy and denounce product discrimination,” says Laure Séguy. As a result, after years of debate, in October 2011, the Traffic light was abandoned for the GDA, which in French is called the daily nutritional benchmark, the system we currently know. “There is no color code, it is much more vague, it remains only figures difficult to understand”, estimates the doctor.

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Olivier Andrault remembers: “already at that time, in 2011, consumer associations had promoted comprehensive labeling for all. The complexity of the tables on the packaging means that 82% of consumers do not understand them, which leads to in fine too much consumption of unhealthy foods, leading to an increase in obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. At the time, the Commission did not listen to us and preferred to compromise between the various players, States, manufacturers and consumers ”.

Why would the Commission revisit its legislation this time around? “Things have changed, reassures Olivier Andrault, we can now rely on many scientific studies that defend the Nutri-score. And the concerns about food are more and more important, consumers are more and more attentive to what they eat. The Commission must be forced to look again at the subject ”.

Progress can be noted: last February, the Assembly voted for the generalization of the nutri-Score. With one caveat, however: advertisers will be able to pay to waive it. There is still some way to go before we really know what to eat.