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Nutritional label: roundtable at the European Parliament

Organised by the Italian Permanent Representation to the European Union

The Italian Permanent Representation to the European Union organised on 26th Octuber at the European Parliament the “Politics meets Nutrition Science” roundtable hosted by Vice President hon. Pina Picierno under the auspices of the Italian delegations of the European Parliament’s political groups. The European Commission is expected to propose an harmonised EU front-of-pack labelling scheme in 2023 with a view of encouraging healthy diets and promoting a smoother functioning of the internal market.

In its impact assessment, the Commission examined four very different types of schemes: the French Nutri-Score, a “graded indicator” that assigns an overall grade to foods displayed through traffic-light colours; the English traffic lights, which express a separate evaluation for calories, sugars, salt and saturated fats, indicating their quantities; the Nordic countries KeyHole, a positive logo that is assigned to foods that, among those of the same typology, have a composition regarded as healthier; and finally the Italian NutrInform Battery, which provides information on the quantities of salt, fats, saturated fats and sugars in foods and indicates the incidence of a portion of the product on the daily requirement. Each of the four approaches has different consequences, which affect not only health but also fair competition, consumer freedom of choice, the future of local production and the different food cultures present within the European Union.

Ambassador Stefano Verrecchia said: “Italy remains committed to fostering an open and science-based debate on how to encourage healthy diets through adequate consumer information. We support the EU’s laudable objective of reducing obesity and non-communicable diseases, but warn against disregarding national dietary traditions and artificially classifying some foods as healthy and others as unhealthy”.

The roundtable was introduced by European Parliament’s Vice President Ms. Pina Picierno and the Vice Minister of Agriculture of the Czech Republic which currently holds the EU Presidency, Mr. Jindřich Fialka. Members of the European Parliament held a fruitful debate on their expectations. The panellists discussed nutritional information on foods and the characteristics a nutritional label should have to empower consumers to adopt a healthy, varied and balanced diet.

Prof. Luca Piretta, nutritionist, specialist in Gastroenterology and Digestive Endoscopy of the University of Rome (Bio-Medical Campus) set the scene by saying “Communication to consumers through a front-of-pack label must be informative and educational. Limiting the responsibility for proper nutrition to the evaluation of a single product available on a shelf is absolutely misleading and sometimes totally counterproductive since one cannot know how much of that product will be consumed (unless the portion is intended), what type of diet it will be included in, let alone the health status of the individual who will be consuming it”.

Carla Valeiras, from the European consumer association SAFE (Safe food advocacy Europe), highlighted the key findings of their recent report on the main voluntary nutrition labelling schemes in use in Europe and around the world: “Noncommunicable diseases and obesity due to unhealthy eating habits are a serious problem for modern society. It is essential that consumers be adequately informed about their choices. Without accurate and reliable information, there is no choice.” Floriana Cimmarusti, SAFE Secretary General was confident that “the Commission will take our report into account when formulating its proposal”.

Dr. Stephan Peters, expert in nutrition science, from the Dutch Dairy Association, stated that “An EU scheme needs to demonstrate that it has a positive effect on the healthiness of the consumer’s supermarket basket in real life - in line with the EFSA approach to substantiating health claims”.

Prof. Marco Silano, Researcher Director and Head of the Food, Nutrition and Health Unit at the Italian Superior Institute of Health presented the various voluntary nutrition labelling schemes in use in Europe and said "FoP NutrInform Battery labelling scheme is effective in accurately informing consumers about the nutritional composition of foods that make up the daily diet. {NutrInform is based on the graphical representation of a battery, whose charged percentage reflects the rate of the recommended daily allowance of energy and the nutrients provided by a serving size of the packed food}"

Ambassador Stefano Verrecchia concluded: “Today’s event shows that highly-respected scientists, civil society, many countries as well as the European Parliament’s political groups are calling on the European Commission to carefully assess the situation before presenting a proposal. The EU scheme needs to demonstrate appropriate health benefits for EU citizens”.

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EFA News - European Food Agency