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Nutri-Score Will Damage Olive Oil Trade, Italian Producers Argue

Nov. 29, 2020
Paolo DeAndreis

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Italian extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­ers do not believe that the French-born Nutri-Score front-of-pack label (FOPL) helps European con­sumers under­stand the ben­e­fits of adher­ing to an extra vir­gin olive oil-based Mediterranean diet.

On the con­trary, its sim­plis­tic clas­si­fi­ca­tion could even push cus­tomers away from food that has so many sci­en­tif­i­cally-proven health ben­e­fits,” Anna Cane, a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal chemist and pres­i­dent of the Association of the Italian Olive Oil Industry (Assitol), told Olive Oil Times.

The intro­duc­tion of Nutri-Score in Germany is likely to have an impact on our busi­ness along with the whole Made in Italy’ mer­chan­dise mark.- Mario Rocchi, board mem­ber, Oleificio RM

Cane and many of Italy’s olive oil pro­duc­ers believe that the even­tual intro­duc­tion of Nutri-Score on both inter­nal and for­eign mar­kets could hin­der extra vir­gin olive oil trade, mostly in those coun­tries where there is no native olive oil cul­ture that can com­pete with they see as mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion.

If we look at the Nutri-Score clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem with its five col­ors and five let­ters, we find extra vir­gin olive oil far­ing even worse than some [diet] sodas,” Cane said. And that hap­pens even if extra vir­gin olive oil’s ben­e­fi­cial effects on health are the sub­ject of an ever-grow­ing vari­ety of sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies.”

See Also: Nutri-Score News

Nutri-Score, which is gain­ing trac­tion across Europe and has been for­mally intro­duced by Germany in recent weeks, attrib­utes extra vir­gin olive oil with a C” grade.

That label does not in any way offer an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the prod­uct, which is labeled C for its fat con­tent,” Dora Desantis, the qual­ity con­trol man­ager at Agridè Terra di Bari PDO, told Olive Oil Times. This means that decades of sci­en­tific research and the many virtues of such a spe­cial ali­ment are not even con­sid­ered by the French FOPL.”

When you look at Nutri-Score you can believe that it could help cur­tail some obe­sity prob­lems in the near future, but for extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­ers, it inhibits the mar­ket,” she added.

According to Serge Hercberg, a pro­fes­sor of nutri­tion at the University of Paris and head of the team that devised Nutri-Score, the point of the FOPL is to com­pare the nutri­tional qual­i­ties of foods in the same cat­e­gory. He main­tains that it is not meant to be the only fac­tor used by con­sumers in their pur­chase choices.

“[The C for olive oil] is the best score pos­si­ble for added fats and even for veg­etable oils,” he told Olive Oil Times in a July 2020 inter­view. The pub­lic health rec­om­men­da­tions do not sug­gest con­sum­ing olive oil with­out lim­its, but they encour­age con­sumers to favor it over other veg­etable oils and espe­cially over ani­mal fats.”

business-europe-nutriscore-will-damage-olive-oil-trade-italian-producers-argue-olive-oil-times

However, many of Nutri-Score’s crit­ics argue that the FOPL will not be used this way by many of the con­sumers who come across it. Desantis, who is also a mem­ber of Assitol, believes that this dif­fer­ence comes down to the dif­fer­ent culi­nary cul­tures in Europe.

In coun­tries such as Italy or Spain, extra vir­gin olive oil is part of our food cul­ture and pop­u­lar cul­ture,” she said. Such a prod­uct vari­ety can­not be eas­ily labeled with a color on a pack­age.”

Doing so in the many coun­tries where there is no olive oil cul­ture is cer­tain to leave out many things that should be said, things that can not be sum­ma­rized,” Desantis added.

For these rea­sons, Desantis, along with many of Nutri-Score’s other detrac­tors, believe the sys­tem is too sim­plis­tic and olive oil pro­duc­ers will be among the vic­tims of this over-sim­pli­fi­ca­tion.

In those coun­tries where cus­tomers are tra­di­tion­ally olive oil con­sumers it is true that it may not be that bad to have extra vir­gin olive oil clas­si­fied as C or D,” Cane said, adding that the coun­tries in which there is no native olive oil cul­ture are the ones where the rep­u­ta­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil as a healthy fat is most likely to be dam­aged.

In those mar­kets, olive oil does not come cheap, so we must count on the pur­chase moti­va­tion,” she said. We as pro­duc­ers would really look bad since we have told those con­sumers that olive oil is one of the best foods you can put on your table.”

Mario Rocchi, a board mem­ber of Oleificio RM, a major Tuscan olive oil pack­ager that sells most of its oils inter­na­tion­ally, agrees. He said that pro­duc­ers had been send­ing a clear mes­sage about the many health ben­e­fits of extra vir­gin olive oil for years and Nutri-Score threat­ens to under­mine that mes­sage.

See Also: Labeling Systems Like Nutri-Score Could Save Lives, Researchers Say

Whether you watch tele­vi­sion or read food mag­a­zines or social media, you will find health-related con­tents that focus on extra vir­gin olive oil,” he told Olive Oil Times. What mes­sage will we now be send­ing out by putting a warn­ing sign on our bot­tles?”

Like many of his col­leagues, Rocchi believes that Nutri-Score dam­ages Made in Italy prod­ucts.” He added that mixed mes­sag­ing around the health ben­e­fits of olive oil could lead to con­sumer push­back in major mar­kets such as Germany, which is the sev­enth largest olive oil con­sum­ing nation in Europe.

As the num­ber of coun­tries for­mally and infor­mally adopt­ing Nutri-Score con­tin­ues to grow, Italian olive oil pro­duc­ers worry that the FOPL also may be adopted by the largest food chains in those coun­tries, in which case any prod­uct appear­ing on their shelves would be sub­ject to the Nutri-Score label.

Should the large German super­mar­ket chains ask us to label our pack­ages with the Nutri-Score, how could Italian com­pa­nies avoid it?” Rocchi asked. No Italian com­pany could afford it.”

The intro­duc­tion of Nutri-Score in Germany is likely to have an impact on our busi­ness along with the whole Made in Italy mer­chan­dise mark,” he added. What I do not know yet is the extent of the dam­ages that it will pro­duce.”

Rocchi said that instead of focussing so much on food labels, author­i­ties should instead con­cen­trate on nutri­tional edu­ca­tion for chil­dren and young adults.

If the Nutri-Score phi­los­o­phy is to offer hints of food edu­ca­tion to con­sumers, then we should focus on schools, where food edu­ca­tion can be effi­ciently taught,” he said. From there, we could invest in a new food cul­ture for future gen­er­a­tions.”

This is food edu­ca­tion,” Rocchi con­cluded, an algo­rithm is not.”


Which label­ing sys­tems do you pre­fer?

OOT Readers’ Poll: Nutrition Labels
29%
Nutri-Score
40%
Nutrinform
29%
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Total Votes: 312

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