After Algorithm Update, French Cheese Producers Renew Criticism of Nutri-Score

Cheese producers protested against Europe’s mandatory adoption of Nutri-Score after an algorithm update resulted in lower scores for some cheeses.
Franche Comte,, France
Nov. 2, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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Cheese pro­duc­ers in France are once again protest­ing against Nutri-Score, the nutri­tional front-of-pack label­ing (FOPL) sys­tem cre­ated by sci­en­tists in the coun­try.

They fear that sales would be impacted neg­a­tively if the con­tro­ver­sial food rat­ing sys­tem is made manda­tory by the European Commission. Nutri-Score rat­ings are cur­rently vol­un­tary in France.

The new offen­sive against Nutri-Score comes on the heels of the recent update to the algo­rithm used to deter­mine rat­ings.

See Also:French Draft Bill to Exclude PDO and PGI Products From Nutri-Score

The National Council of PDO-Certified Specialties (CNAOL) asked the French gov­ern­ment to ensure that cheese mak­ers would be con­sid­ered in the update.

However, it did not help the rat­ings of most cheeses, includ­ing those with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, which is reserved for tra­di­tional food spe­cial­ties. Some rat­ings were even revised down­ward due to fat and salt con­tents penal­ized by Nutri-Score.

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It’s dis­as­trous,” coun­cil chair­man Hubert Dubien said. The mod­i­fi­ca­tions have made noth­ing bet­ter. It’s even worse for some [cheeses].”

Cheese pro­duc­ers have crit­i­cized the algo­rithm update, argu­ing their tra­di­tion­ally-pro­duced prod­ucts should not receive the same rat­ing as processed foods, includ­ing frozen piz­zas and vanilla ice cream.

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.

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The cre­ators and back­ers of Nutri-Score said the rat­ing sys­tem is meant to help con­sumers make choices among prod­ucts in the same cat­e­gory, such as edi­ble oils, and is not meant for cross-com­par­isons.

In response to the Nutri-Score rat­ings, the coun­cil released a doc­u­ment demon­strat­ing the cul­tural qual­i­ties of PDO cheese pro­duc­tion.

The doc­u­ment showed that nearly 78 per­cent of PDO cheeses are made from raw milk, mean­ing the milk is not heated above 40 ºC before pro­duc­tion. They also stated that 28 of 46 PDO kinds of cheese are exclu­sively made with raw milk.

Producing cheese with raw milk pre­serves its micro-organ­isms, which influ­ences the final taste of the cheese. The coun­cil argued that these micro-organ­isms are the essence of local cheese tra­di­tions.

Meanwhile, in Italy, a mem­ber of the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, which lost power in the September elec­tions, said Nutri-Score is unlikely to be adopted by the European Union as its manda­tory FOPL.

Stefano Patuanelli, the for­mer agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, told Il Sole 24 Ore that when we were put in charge [of the min­istry], the fight against Nutri-Score seemed with­out hope. Instead, we can say that if the game has ended, it has ended for the traf­fic-light label­ing sys­tem.”

Italy has long been home to some of Nutri-Score’s most out­spo­ken crit­ics, with many ral­ly­ing behind the rival Nutrinform Battery FOPL.

According to Patuanelli, the European health com­mis­sion’s gen­eral direc­tion has already said that a traf­fic light FOPL does not pro­vide enough infor­ma­tion to con­sumers.

However, the European Food Safety Agency and Joint Research Center found that FOPLs like Nutri-Score might influ­ence con­sumers to make health­ier choices.

The European Commission said it will adopt a manda­tory pan-European FOPL before March 2023.



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