` Italian Researchers Say Nutri-Score Treats Shoppers 'Like Children' - Olive Oil Times

Italian Researchers Say Nutri-Score Treats Shoppers 'Like Children'

Oct. 12, 2020
Paolo DeAndreis

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A pair of Italian food sci­en­tists and nutri­tion researchers have reit­er­ated their belief that Nutri-Score does not pro­vide the most accu­rate reflec­tion of cer­tain food’s nutri­tional value.

Italian detrac­tors of Nutri-Score, includ­ing the min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture, Teresa Bellanova, have crit­i­cized the French-backed front-of-pack label­ing sys­tem as overly sim­plis­tic and believe it should not be adopted by the European Union.

(Nutri-Score) is wrong. It is the fear of one spe­cific macronu­tri­ent, fat in this case, that anni­hi­lates all of the other char­ac­ter­is­tics of that food.- Luca Piretta, pro­fes­sor of food sci­ence, University Campus Biomedico

Despite the oppo­si­tion, Nutri-Score has been steadily gain­ing trac­tion in north­ern and west­ern Europe and has already been adopted by sev­eral large food pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies and sev­eral stud­ies have come out in sup­port of its adop­tion by the 27-mem­ber bloc.

However, a pair of Italian food sci­ence and nutri­tion experts told Olive Oil Times that those in favor of adopt­ing Nutri-Score should more care­fully con­sider the con­se­quences of hav­ing such a sim­ple and poten­tially mis­lead­ing” pan-European label­ing sys­tem.

See Also: Seven Countries Protest Adoption of Nutri-Score at European Meeting

The Nutri-Score mes­sage – five cat­e­gories, five let­ters and five col­ors – con­sti­tutes a mis­lead­ing sim­pli­fi­ca­tion,” said Francesco Capozzi, a pro­fes­sor at the agri­cul­tural and food sci­ences depart­ment of the University of Bologna and co-founder of the Foodomics dis­ci­pline.

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We have been work­ing to let the con­sumer receive ade­quate food edu­ca­tion. Do we really have to begin treat­ing our cit­i­zens like chil­dren?” he asked.

Nutri-Score is a very arbi­trary sys­tem that takes into con­sid­er­a­tion sev­eral known para­me­ters, con­sid­er­ing some neg­a­tive and some pos­i­tive, and gets a score out of them,” added Luca Piretta, a gas­troen­terol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor of food sci­ence and human nutri­tion at the University Campus Biomedico in Rome.

This brings us to mis­lead­ing results, where calo­ries, fats or pro­teins are counted arbi­trar­ily and used to pro­duce col­ors and labels to clas­sify food,” he added.

Capozzi noted that the cur­rent E.U. reg­u­la­tion 1169/11 already pro­vides con­sumers with all the infor­ma­tion that they need to make an informed deci­sion when com­par­ing food items.

When some­one buys some type of food, it is not because the con­sumers trust adver­tis­ing, it hap­pens because there is a con­tract between seller and buyer,” he said. As a con­sumer, I can count on the fact that a truth­ful list of mean­ing­ful con­tents must be pub­lished on the pack­age.”

Oversimplifying nutri­tional infor­ma­tion to the point that it becomes inac­cu­rate rep­re­sents a vio­la­tion of that reg­u­la­tion,” Capozzi added. What counts is the mes­sage the con­sumers receive. It is not only dam­ag­ing to the con­sumers’ free­dom of choice, but also to food sci­ence and nutri­tion.”

The quan­ti­ties of energy, fats or macro nutri­ents are a rel­e­vant part of food con­tent, but food is also made of many other com­po­nents,” he con­tin­ued.

Capozzi also argued that Nutri-Score does not reflect an accu­rate snap­shot of a food’s health­ful qual­i­ties because the algo­rithm clas­si­fies food on the basis of a stan­dard­ized quan­tity, such as 100 grams or 100 mil­li­liters.

In the case of a food item such as extra vir­gin olive oil, which receives a C‑grade from Nutri-Score due to its fat con­tent, the afore­men­tioned quan­ti­ties do not reflect real­is­tic con­sump­tion lev­els.

No one will ever eat 100 mil­li­liters of olive oil while din­ing. Maybe some could eat 100 grams of oats, but in just a small spoon of extra vir­gin olive oil we find polyphe­nols and many other com­pounds which are essen­tial for our own health,” Capozzi said.

If we con­sider the alter­na­tive label­ing sys­tem pro­posed by the Italian gov­ern­ment, the Nutrinform Battery, we enter a totally dif­fer­ent field, one that focuses on edu­cat­ing con­sumers while not manip­u­lat­ing their choices,” Piretta added.

According to the spe­cial­ist, the argu­ment between which front-of-pack label­ing sys­tem is best comes down to a cul­tural divide.

There is no such thing as a bad food or a good food, there is no such thing as a food that can be eaten and one that can­not,” he said. We need to focus on the quan­ti­ties as related to the over­all food and nutri­tional daily intake.”

Piretta agreed with Capozzi that the way in which Nutri-Score com­pares the nutri­tional con­tent of food is inad­e­quate to cap­ture the health ben­e­fits asso­ci­ated with extra vir­gin olive oil.

“[Nutri-Score] is wrong,” Piretta said. It is the fear of one spe­cific macronu­tri­ent — fat in this case — that anni­hi­lates all of the other char­ac­ter­is­tics of that food.”

That also hap­pens with hard cheese, which gets low scores from Nutri-Score because of the 100 grams quan­tity stan­dard,” he added. Portions of food should be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. In a Nutri-Score envi­ron­ment, we could even find sugar-free car­bon­ated drinks that rank bet­ter than olive oil because, once again, not all of their con­tents are con­sid­ered,” since they are pack­aged in con­tain­ers far larger than the stan­dard 100-mil­li­liter mea­sure­ment used by Nutri-Score.

The two experts believe that if a prod­uct is labeled with the warn­ing col­ors and low scores employed by Nutri-Score, con­sumers will sim­ply select foods labeled with an A or B grade and ignore the con­tents of the item.

The traf­fic light sys­tem in Nutri-Score is sim­ple, yet com­plex things can­not always be made sim­ple,” Piretta said. Food edu­ca­tion requires time.”

Piretta and Capozzi believe that if a label­ing sys­tem is to be intro­duced, it should be used to value the bal­ance among the dif­fer­ent prod­ucts’ aver­age intake.

On the other hand, sup­port­ers of Nutri-Score believe that con­sumers make com­par­isons among prod­ucts of the same cat­e­gory.

They argue that, for exam­ple, the sim­pli­fied label allows con­sumers to more eas­ily deter­mine that extra vir­gin olive oil – graded with a C” – is health­ier than other com­mon cook­ing oils, such as palm oil, which is graded as an E.”

However, Nutri-Score detrac­tors do not believe that con­sumers will inter­pret the system’s grades in such a nuanced fash­ion.

The con­sumer will not buy a prod­uct labeled C, sim­ply because it is labeled that way,” Piretta rebutted.

To this end, Capozzi argued that con­sumers are not used to mak­ing a com­par­i­son between foods of the same cat­e­gory, but their atten­tion is mainly cap­tured by the absolute score.”

The Nutrinform Battery label­ing idea, Piretta argued, con­sid­ers pro­por­tion­al­ity, with no demo­niza­tion of the food con­tents, includ­ing sat­u­rated fat, sugar or salt.

With Nutrinform, those are bal­anced in serv­ings, that means that if you eat your serv­ing of Parmigiano cheese the Battery will show you how much that por­tion counts in your over­all daily intake,” Piretta said. Nutrinform allows con­sumers to iden­tify the cat­e­gory of each nutri­ent and how much it fills up the bat­tery.”

It is mis­lead­ing to believe that to com­bat the obe­sity epi­demic, for instance, we should remove fat or sug­ars,” Piretta con­cluded. We need to focus on edu­ca­tion and not on sim­pli­fi­ca­tion. We can­not hope to win over obe­sity mis­lead­ing peo­ple, we need the exact oppo­site.”


Which label­ing sys­tems do you pre­fer?

OOT Readers’ Poll: Nutrition Labels
35%
Nutri-Score
47%
Nutrinform
18%
Neither
Total Votes: 135


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