Food Labeling Debate Reignites as Romania Bans Nutri-Score

The ban comes as a Nutri-Score algorithm update penalized artificially sweetened beverages.
Brasov, Romania
By Paolo DeAndreis
May. 16, 2023 16:34 UTC

The debate sur­round­ing the Nutri-Score front-of-pack label­ing (FOPL) sys­tem has re-ignited after Romania banned the label effec­tive May 1.

The deci­sion of the Romanian National Authority for Consumers Protection (ANPC) for­bids the Nutri-Score logo from appear­ing on food pack­ages sold to the pub­lic.

The Romanian deci­sion is not based on sci­ence and pub­lic health,” Serge Hercberg, Nutri-Score’s founder, told Olive Oil Times. It is based on the pres­sure of lob­bies.”

See Also:Olive Oil Will Never Attain the Highest Rating, Nutri-Score Founder Says

The [ANPC’s] posi­tion appears in denial of the many sci­en­tific works out­lin­ing the effi­ciency of Nutri-Score in terms of pub­lic health,” he added.

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. Due to a recent update, all olive oils are now rated as Light-green B.

ANPC’s offi­cials said they imposed the ban on the adop­tion of Nutri-Score because it has not been approved for use by the country’s retail­ers.

The Romanian ban resem­bles an Italian con­sumer pro­tec­tion author­ity deci­sion adopted last year, which imposed severe lim­i­ta­tions on its use, argu­ing that Nutri-Score could not accu­rately inform con­sumers.

However, Hercberg lamented that the Nutri-Score ban would result in a lost chance for con­sumers to make healthy choices.

Instead, con­sumers are tar­geted by mar­ket­ing activ­i­ties to push them to overeat prod­ucts which present an unfa­vor­able nutri­tional com­po­si­tion,” Hercberg said.

Hercberg’s posi­tion is shared by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). It is regret­table that Romanian author­i­ties are plan­ning to ban the valu­able and sci­ence-based Nutri-Score in the coun­try,” Emma Calvert, BEUC’s senior food pol­icy offi­cer, told Olive Oil Times

According to Calvert, the delayed intro­duc­tion of the ANPC ban in Romania, which was decided last year, is due to the expec­ta­tions that the European Commission will intro­duce its own food labelling pol­icy.

It is clear that the proposal’s repeated delays are hav­ing mul­ti­ple neg­a­tive side effects,” she said. It is not only deny­ing con­sumers a use­ful infor­ma­tion tool to help them opt for health­ier choices in the super­mar­ket, but it is also depriv­ing oper­a­tors and national author­i­ties of legal cer­tainty.”

Still, fur­ther debate has been trig­gered by the recent Nutri-Score update, which penal­izes arti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers widely used as sugar sub­sti­tutes. Water remains the only bev­er­age clas­si­fied as Green A.’

The update down­grades many low-calo­rie soft drinks, an out­come which has led to protests from some com­pa­nies.

In coun­tries where Nutri-Score has been fully imple­mented, such as France and Germany, the FOPL’s impact on con­sumers’ choices has been sig­nif­i­cant.


We have very encour­ag­ing data about the impact of Nutri-Score in France,” Hercberg said. Sales in super­mar­kets of food pack­ages with the Nutri-Score logo show a decrease in sales of prod­ucts rank­ing D or E and an increase of sales for prod­ucts rank­ing A or B.”

On top of that, we have pos­i­tive data about the refor­mu­la­tion of food prod­ucts,” he added, refer­ring to the changes made by pro­duc­ers to some pack­aged food items in an effort to improve their Nutri-Score rat­ing.

Studies car­ried out by Santé Publique France showed that 94 per­cent of con­sumers favor the pres­ence of Nutri-Score on the pack­ag­ing,” said Hercberg, adding that 89 per­cent of con­sumers would also like Nutri-Score to be manda­tory on all food pack­ages.

57 per­cent of the con­sumers declare that they have already changed at least one of their pur­chas­ing habits due to Nutri-Score,” he added

In the last two days, the Nutri-Score blog, sup­ported by more than 300 health researchers and sci­en­tists, fur­ther fuelled the debate by pub­lish­ing a research paper titled Why the European Commission must choose the Nutri-Score nutri­tion label – a pub­lic health tool based on rig­or­ous sci­en­tific evi­dence – as the har­mo­nized manda­tory nutri­tion label for Europe.’

The report under­lines the rea­sons seven European coun­tries have so far intro­duced Nutri-Score. It also ded­i­cates whole chap­ters to address ques­tions that may be legit­i­mately raised on Nutri-Score but that are often mis­used and exploited as fake news by lob­by­ing groups.”

The major obsta­cle to a wide adop­tion of Nutri-Score in Europe is the joint pres­sure at European Commission level of large food com­pa­nies opposed since the begin­ning to Nutri-Score,” Hercberg said, point­ing to Coca-Cola, Unilever International, Ferrero and Kraft.

In his opin­ion, pres­sure against Nutri-Score comes from cer­tain agri­cul­tural sec­tors, espe­cially the cheese and processed meat sec­tors and their pow­er­ful European rep­re­sen­ta­tion Copa-Cogeca,” he added.

After sev­eral delays, how and when the European Commission will adopt an E.U.-wide FOPL remains unclear.

Hercberg remarked how the delays in such a deci­sion come from the involve­ment of sev­eral politi­cians close to the lob­bies” and the lob­by­ing actions of the Italian gov­ern­ment, accel­er­ated since Italy’s last elec­tions, and some other coun­tries, such as Romania.”

“[They are] deploy­ing the most absurd and dis­hon­est argu­ments to pre­vent the choice of Nutri-Score,” he con­cluded.


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