` Spanish Producers Join Chorus of Concerns Over Nutri-Score - Olive Oil Times

Spanish Producers Join Chorus of Concerns Over Nutri-Score

Dec. 8, 2020
Paolo DeAndreis

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The Nutri-Score food label­ing sys­tem is under­go­ing harsh scrutiny from the Spanish olive oil indus­try and gov­ern­ment offi­cials, as its for­mal intro­duc­tion in the coun­try approaches.

With plans to inte­grate the sys­tem into the food chain in the first few months of 2021 going ahead, the National Sectoral of Virgin Olive Oil with a Protected Designation of Origin has heav­ily crit­i­cized the French FOPL (front-of-pack label).

Spain can not allow a nutri­tional clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that mis­leads the con­sumer. It is an absolute scan­dal.- Enric Dalmau and José Manuel Bajo, National Sectoral of PDO Virgin Olive Oil

According to the Catalan news agency, La Vanguardia, at a meet­ing with the Spanish food secu­rity agency, Aesan, the pres­i­dent and exec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the sec­toral called Nutri-Score incom­plete, mis­lead­ing and, as such, false.”

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

Enric Dalmau and José Manuel Bajo added that the numer­ous health ben­e­fits of extra vir­gin olive oil are not taken into account by Nutri-Score, which clas­si­fies all food items with a let­ter and asso­ci­ated color grade from A to E (A being most healthy, E being least healthy).

Seven dif­fer­ent para­me­ters – con­tent of fruits, veg­eta­bles and nuts, fiber, pro­tein, calo­ries, sugar, fat and sodium per 100 grams or per liter of food – are taken into account when cal­cu­lat­ing the score.

The gov­ern­ment can­not put its weight behind an out­rage that will irre­me­di­a­bly dam­age the image and rep­u­ta­tion of one of the most pres­ti­gious agri-food prod­ucts in the coun­try, base of the Mediterranean diet,” the PDO pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tion said.

In state­ments reported by the news­pa­per El País, Dalmau and Bajo fur­ther crit­i­cized the way Nutri-Score clas­si­fies olive oil.

To even con­sider olive oil to be on the same level as seed oils, includ­ing rape­seed oil, is a com­plete fraud against con­sumers,” they said. Spain can not allow a nutri­tional clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that mis­leads the con­sumer. It is an absolute scan­dal.”

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.”

Proponents of Nutri-Score have also argued that the clas­si­fi­ca­tions are not set in stone. For exam­ple, olive oil was orig­i­nally graded with a D by Nutri-Score before being revised up to a C after the qual­ity of its fat con­tent – monoun­sat­u­rated fatty acids as opposed to sat­u­rated fatty acids – was taken into account.

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To this end, the Spanish Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare did not rule out future changes, which would be looked at dur­ing the peri­odic meet­ings held by the coun­tries that have already adopted Nutri-Score.

There is an idea to cre­ate a sci­en­tific com­mit­tee that will adopt future clas­si­fi­ca­tions and mod­i­fi­ca­tions fol­low­ing the avail­able sci­en­tific evi­dence,” the min­istry said, adding that changes can only be made based on sci­en­tific knowl­edge and no deci­sion can be taken in the inter­est of any sin­gle coun­try.”

However, not all experts within the min­istry agree about the effi­cacy of Nutri-Score. Montaña Cámara, pres­i­dent of the Aesan sci­en­tific com­mis­sion, said she con­sid­ered Nutri-Score a con­fus­ing” sys­tem.

According to the local agri­cul­tural mag­a­zine Agrodiario, Cámara said that Nutri-Score aims at sim­pli­fy­ing, but it really is not easy to under­stand” because con­sumers could think that [Nutri-Score] allows them to com­pare fruits and cere­als, or meat-based prod­ucts with legumes, but that is not the case, since it only has mean­ing if used to com­pare prod­ucts belong­ing to the same food cat­e­gory.”

Juan Revenga, a pro­fes­sor at the University of San Jorge, mem­ber of the Spanish Nutritional Academy and the sci­en­tific com­mit­tee of the Spanish Foundation of Nutritionists, agrees with Cámara’s assess­ment and added that Nutri-Score may under­mine efforts to edu­cate peo­ple about the healthy qual­i­ties of extra vir­gin olive oil.

Consumers will have a hard time under­stand­ing why a prod­uct that has been asso­ci­ated with a healthy diet for so long – extra vir­gin olive oil – gets such a clas­si­fi­ca­tion,” he told Olive Oil Times. It is even dif­fi­cult for the experts in the sec­tor to under­stand.”

No one can under­stand why such a score is attrib­uted to olive oil with­out con­sid­er­ing its dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties: within Nutri-Score a C includes extra vir­gin olive oil, vir­gin olive oil, non-vir­gin olive oil and olive oil obtained through refin­ing,” he added. That is non­sense.”

However, what con­cerns Revenga the most about Nutri-Score is the high clas­si­fi­ca­tions for processed foods.

According to a study, more than 40 per­cent of all prod­ucts clas­si­fied A or B [by Nutri-Score] are ultra-processed,” he said. That can not be accepted, con­sumers are informed that those foods are healthy when they are not.”

Revenga cited Coca Cola Zero and Chocapic cere­als, both of which are clas­si­fied with a B by Nutri-Score, as exam­ples.

One of the most dan­ger­ous fea­tures of the Nutri-Score algo­rithm is, on one hand, that it fac­tors in the neg­a­tive con­tents present in a food, while empha­siz­ing appar­ently pos­i­tive con­tents,” Revenga said. These can be used to white­wash the neg­a­tive ele­ments in the final clas­si­fi­ca­tion.”

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

It is incom­pre­hen­si­ble how the C clas­si­fi­ca­tion for extra vir­gin olive oil is the same for rape­seed oil or nut oil or with any other vari­ety of lower qual­ity olive oils,” he added.

This lack of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion among veg­etable oils also con­cerns pro­duc­ers of olive oils with geo­graph­i­cal indi­ca­tors.

We are tak­ing a lot of risks, because that is a label con­sumers will look at, and can deter them from con­sum­ing extra vir­gin olive oil,” Jesús Sutil, who man­ages the Sierra Mágina PDO in Jaén, told El País.

Spain is the world’s largest pro­ducer of olive oil and a major exporter. Roughly one-third of the country’s olive oil exports are des­tined for other coun­tries in the European Union. Sutil believes the adop­tion of Nutri-Score may have a sig­nif­i­cant impact extra vir­gin olive oil con­sump­tion in the bloc.

Bajo, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of National Sectoral of Virgin Olive Oil with a Protected Designation of Origin, struck a sim­i­lar note and said there is a lot at stake because we are putting at risk a sym­bol of iden­tity as a coun­try.”

The Marca España is in dan­ger, and our inter­na­tional influ­ence is in ques­tion,” he added. If E.U. con­sumers do not see the dif­fer­ence between olive oil and other oils, if it is not iden­ti­fied by its high healthy value, we do not know how much European con­sump­tion is going to fall. It’s a risk we’re not will­ing to take.”





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