Studies Indicate Labels Like Nutri-Score Help Consumers Make Healthy Choices

With Europe set to choose a mandatory food labeling system in the next six months, Nutri-Score remains the front-runner.
Sep. 21, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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The European Union’s Joint Research Center has pub­lished four stud­ies show­ing that some front-of-pack-label­ing (FOPL) sys­tems, such as Nutri-Score, might influ­ence con­sumers to make health­ier deci­sions when shop­ping for food.

Nutri-Score’s advo­cates see the pub­li­ca­tion of these stud­ies, which act as an offi­cial update to the sci­en­tific posi­tion of the European Commission, as an implicit endorse­ment of the FOPL.

The European Commission remains on pace to name a sin­gle manda­tory FOPL for the E.U. in the next six months, with Nutri-Score firmly in place as the front run­ner.

See Also:Hundreds of Scientists Support Adoption of Nutri-Score Labeling System

The JRC stud­ies indi­cated that FOPLs incen­tivize the food indus­try to enhance the nutri­tional qual­ity of their prod­ucts to improve the prod­ucts’ scores.

According to the stud­ies, con­sumers pre­fer sim­ple, col­or­ful and eval­u­a­tive FOPLs. In addi­tion, con­sumers under­stand less com­plex labels more eas­ily than more com­pli­cated, mono­chrome and non-eval­u­a­tive labels.

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Other find­ings show how FOPLs more effi­ciently inform con­sumers com­pared to menu labels, shelf labels, point-of-sale signs, QR codes, web­site hyper­links and other exter­nal tools that offer access to infor­ma­tion.

The JRC stud­ies also high­lighted how deeply con­sumers are influ­enced by the coun­try of ori­gin of a prod­uct. However, when buy­ing gro­ceries, time pres­sure or the attrac­tive­ness of spe­cific prod­ucts due to adver­tis­ing or pack­ag­ing often dis­tracts con­sumers from inves­ti­gat­ing the pro­duc­t’s ori­gin.

Consumers also favor prod­ucts that adver­tise their low envi­ron­men­tal impacts.

The JRC posi­tion seems to specif­i­cally counter all major crit­i­cism that has been raised against Nutri-Score in the last two years,” Cristina Chirico, the direc­tor of the Agriculture is Life Association in Italy and head of the inter­na­tional office of the Confederation of Italian Farmers, told Olive Oil Times.

Nutri-Score is a traf­fic-light-style FOPL that uses a com­bi­na­tion of five coor­di­nated col­ors and let­ters to rate how healthy a pack­aged food item is based on its fat, sugar, salt and calo­rie con­tent per 100 gram or mil­li­liter serv­ing. The Green A” indi­cates the health­i­est option, and Red E” denotes the least healthy.

According to its pro­mot­ers, Nutri-Score allows con­sumers to com­pare food within the same prod­uct cat­e­gory.

Most grades of olive oil, includ­ing extra vir­gin olive oil, receive a Light-green B” from Nutri-Score, the sec­ond high­est rat­ing. Olive oils pre­vi­ously received a Yellow C,” but heavy lob­by­ing from across the olive oil world resulted in a tweak in the algo­rithm to con­sider the type of fat con­tent. Olive oil is approx­i­mately 76 per­cent monoun­sat­u­rated fat.

In a pre­sen­ta­tion of the study results, the JRC said the new find­ings would help inform the European Commission’s deci­sion on which FOPL will be selected for manda­tory adop­tion across the E.U.

In response to the study, Serge Hercberg, Nutri-Score’s cre­ator, said the FOPL per­fectly adhered to all of the JRC’s find­ings.

Conversely, the Italian Nutrinform Battery FOPL is clas­si­fied as a mono­chrome, non-eval­u­a­tive and com­plex front-of-pack nutri­tional label­ing (cor­re­spond­ing to labels less well posi­tioned by JRC in terms of use­ful­ness and effi­ciency),” he added.

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According to Hercberg, the find­ings from the JRC stud­ies fur­ther refute the alle­ga­tions made by lob­by­ist groups and agri­cul­tural asso­ci­a­tions that argue Nutri-Score is overly sim­plis­tic and hurts tra­di­tional pro­duc­ers.

The most intense crit­i­cisms of Nutri-Score have come from Italy, where the gov­ern­ment, farm­ing asso­ci­a­tions and aca­d­e­mics have rebuked the FOPL. The JRC find­ings also have been met with wide­spread crit­i­cism.

See Also:Indian Consumers Reject Nutri-Score and Other Labels

Italy has been work­ing as a whole to ditch a label­ing sys­tem which is believed to be mis­lead­ing con­sumers,” Chirico said. That posi­tion does not change. So we will press on with our chal­lenge.”

We are wor­ried by the tim­ing and the con­tents of the JRC update and by some crit­i­cism to the Italian posi­tion, which is not the effect of lob­by­ing; it is a fight for the health and the inter­ests of European con­sumers and farm­ers,” she added.

Chirico said asso­ci­a­tions and stake­hold­ers in Italy would con­tinue to push back against Nutri-Score, which they believe to be a sim­plis­tic food rat­ing sys­tem.

Unhealthy eat­ing is the byprod­uct of aban­don­ing tra­di­tional farm­ing mod­els,” she added. Sustainable farm­ing pro­duc­tion is inher­ently linked to healthy and sus­tain­able con­sump­tion.”

Like many oth­ers in Italy, she believes author­i­ties must take a more holis­tic approach to food label­ing, cit­ing the pil­lars of the Mediterranean diet as an exam­ple.

The goal we are all work­ing for is to raise con­sumers’ aware­ness about the nutri­tional qual­i­ties of food,” Chirico said. The dif­fer­ence here is that we con­sider the effects of a whole diet. We believe an indi­vid­u­al’s lifestyle deter­mines their health, not just a sin­gle prod­uct.”

However, Hercberg said that this type of rhetoric (refer­ring to the gen­eral argu­ments and not the spe­cific one listed above) is made by food lob­bies in Italy to defend their eco­nomic inter­ests and flat­ter culi­nary nation­al­ism.”

These pseudo-argu­ments are, of course, absurd, but they are in line with those con­veyed by var­i­ous polit­i­cal par­ties in Italy, notably the extreme right and pop­ulist par­ties for elec­toral rea­sons,” he added.

Chirico coun­ters that improv­ing healthy eat­ing habits require sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, alle­vi­at­ing food poverty and improv­ing nutri­tion edu­ca­tion, which she main­tains that a sin­gle food label can­not achieve.

We can­not accept con­di­tion­ing the con­sumer with labels which sim­ply ignore the broader pic­ture of the food sys­tem,” she said.

According to European Commission sources, the final deci­sion on whether Nutri-Score will be selected as Europe’s manda­tory food label would likely be made pub­lic in the first three months of 2023, under the Swedish pres­i­dency of the E.U.



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