By Emmanouil Karpadakis* [GR]
*Exports area manager and olive oil taster at MELISSA-KIKIZAS SA and Terra Creta olive oil brand, Vice President of Cretan Exporters Association, Member of the Greek AREPO and Cretan OO committee, email@example.com
Harmonization of “Front-of-Pack-Labeling” (or FOPL) systems, which is promoted by WHO and the “farm to fork” strategy of European Commission, is aiming mainly in three goals:
- to provide convenient, relevant, and readily understood nutrition information or guidance on food packs,
- to assist all consumers to make informed food purchases and healthier eating choices.
- to stimulate favorable compositional changes to food products available in retail outlets*
From the existing FOPL systems, NUTRI-SCORE managed to gain ground among food producing companies and European retailers, mainly due to its simplicity.
Nutri-Score was developed by Santé publique France and was implemented in 2017, in voluntary basis, after long scale studies and experimentation**. It is based on a five-color nutritional scale for optimize the logo accessibility and understanding by the consumer.: from the dark green “A” (presented as the healthiest) to the red “E” (the lowest nutritional value).
Today, in a non-mandatory application, seven countries and 2106 companies are using the Nutri-Score FOPL.
However, the current algorithm of NUTRSCORE evaluates a part of the overall nutritional profile and only the following elements: energy value, total fats, saturated fats, sugar, salt, protein and the amount of fiber. It DOES NOT evaluate important healthy ingredients like vitamins, Bio-phenol’s, antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, probiotics etc, neither the level of process. Furthermore, DOES not take into account the recommended or average daily consumption of each food, for example there is huge difference in the daily consumption of soft drinks and olive oil or honey!!.
As a result, instead of presenting reliable information and help consumers towards to a healthier diet, Nutri-Score creates confusion and acts against the totally natural or single-ingredient products in favor of the processed food (which can be easily adjust their recipes for achieve a higher score in the algorithm, but not necessarily for become healthier).
A great example of the above mispresented classification is the Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), a single-ingredient and natural product with scientifically proven health value and a basic ingredient of the world-recognized Mediterranean diet. EVOO is classified in the category “C” today and maybe will move to “B”, however it is still below other processed foods and soft drinks, that are presented as healthier and in a higher category (B or even A). A similar mispresented classification applies also to other single-ingredient and natural products like honey but also to a variety of traditional PDO and PGI certified food products like cheeses and table olives. Apart from the above, Nutri-Score does not evaluate the cultural and traditional aspect of food, that are strongly connected with the locality and heritage of each region.
One of the paradoxes we see today is that we find the same category (yellow C), for a variety of different oils like the totally natural “Extra Virgin” and “Virgin” Olive Oil but also the processed “Olive Oil” and “Frying oil”!! At the same time, some processed food appear to be healthier than Extra Virgin Olive Oil (in category A or B) , like potatoes, cereals, refreshments, peanut butter, etc)
A recent revision of the algorithm, presented by a scientific committee, does not solve all the problems of Nutri-Score classification system and has raised criticism among EU countries, and not only
International Olive Council, the most reputed intergovernmental organization for the olive oil sector protection and development, have asked for the highest rating for olive oil, while in the recent YALE University Symposium (ROME/September 2022) with participants from several EU and non-EU countries, a white paper was published, along a with a supported documentation, asking for the highest classification level for Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a clear distinguish from other processed oils.
More voices from the EU traditional products; associations are against the current classification system of Nutri-Score asking for a more reliable and transparent FOPL system, from Greece, Spain, Italy, Romania, France Czech Republic, Hungary, Cyprus and Latvia
Recently, Italy and Romania banned the use of Nutri-Score within their countries as a misleading and unfair FOPL system.
The decision of European Commission for a mandatory and harmonized FOPL scheme was expected before the end of 2022, however due to the complexity of the situation, the decision was postponed for the spring of 2023.
Obviously, for any FOPL implemented by the European Commission, the basic guidelines of WHO and F2F strategy has to be fulfilled, otherwise the objectives won’t be served.
For the same purpose, natural and single-ingredient products with proven health benefits such as Extra Virgin Olive Oil must be classified in the highest level of any mandatory FOPL scheme, mainly for the benefit of the consumer.
*WHO report 61/2018, ** santepubliquefrance.fr