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The Yuka app sentenced to Paris for battles against nitrites and nitrates

The Yuka app was convicted by the Paris Administrative Court for defamation and unfair business practices. The French Federation of Sausage and Sausage Industries (Fédération des entreprises françaises de charcuterie-traiteur - FICT), due to the positions expressed on nitrites and nitrates.

The Court of Paris thus censured the freedom of thought on preservative additives traditionally used in meat products but which are the subject of various scientific studies that highlight possible contraindications for health associated with their contribution.

Yuka app, an 'awkward' tool

Installed on the smartphone, the Yuka app allows you to check the nutritional quality of food at a glance, as we have seen. In fact, it attributes to an extraordinary variety of food products the Nutriscore score - which considers the values ​​of kcal, fats and saturated fats, sugar and salt / sodium (as well as those of proteins, dietary fibers and micronutrients). In addition to signaling the presence of controversial additives, even in cosmetics, and to favor organic food. (1)

In the case of nitrites and nitrates, often added to meat preparations as preservatives or to maintain the pink color of the meat, the Yuka app's judgment is decidedly negative. These preservatives - recognizable on the label by the initials E249 (potassium nitrite), E250 (sodium nitrite), E251 (sodium nitrate) and E252 (potassium nitrate) - are classified by the app as'very dangerous' is 'to avoid'.

Nitrites and nitrates, the petition in France

The judgments expressed by the Yuka app on some food additives present in various products are not based on 'hearsay', being instead accompanied by specific references to the scientific bibliography that highlights possible critical issues for the health of consumers (eg. ANSES, EFSA, ..). In the case of nitrites, the studies cited refer to the possible increased risk of colorectal cancer and blood diseases. IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in fact classified them in 2015 as probable carcinogens (2A).

On all products which contain nitrites and nitrates, also proposes a link to the petition promoted by the independent consumer association Foodwatch, the French Cancer League (League against cancer) and the same Yuka app. This initiative was launched in 2019 and has already collected over 342 thousand signatures, with the aim of obtaining a ban on the use of these preservative additives. (2) A subject under discussion, among other things, also in the French Parliament.

Nitrites and nitrates, the alternatives available

Conservation of meat products (eg cooked cured meats) without nitrites and nitrates has been made possible and has become a market reality in recent years. Thanks to applied research on the combined action of natural preservatives derived from plants (e.g. rosemary extracts, prickly pear, ..) and enzymes o starter microbial.

The European Commission, which also financed two specific research projects in this regard (Phytome 1 and 2), however, did not take a position consistent with public health objectives, in view of their use. Precisely because of the unreasonable resistance of some lobby of the major producers of cured meats, proven in the present case by the attack on the Yuka app. Which was in fact sued for failing to respond to the French association's claim to remove the link to the petition and references to the harmfulness of nitrates and nitrites.

The reasons for the sentence

According to the judges of the administrative court of Paris, the aforementioned activities of Yuka would represent an unfair commercial practice and a defamation of delicatessens. The young owners of the app were thus sentenced, on 25.5.21, to pay 20 thousand euros in damages to the association of sausage producers. For having expressed their free thinking which is based on scientific studies and opinions of the authorities responsible for assessing food safety risks. (3)

Defamation according to the Parisian judges, it would appear because Yuka provides a judgment aimed at dissuading consumers from purchasing products that contain nitrites and nitrates. Although these additives are still authorized in Europe to prevent botulism and other toxic infections indicated as more serious risks than those related to the intake of these preservatives in excessive quantities.

Consequently, Yuka is also accused of having carried out an unfair commercial practice. The judges argue: 'According to article L121-1 of the French Consumer Code, a commercial practice is unfair when it alters or is likely to substantially alter the economic behavior of a consumer who is normally informed and reasonably attentive and aware, with respect to a good or service.'. The evidence that Yuka is not a competitor of the cured meats is worthless.

A new gag?

The sentence against Yuka deserves reflection. If discouraging the consumption of substances authorized but considered dangerous by the scientific literature is defamation and unfair commercial practice, the right of opinion and consumer protection are at an end.

Where such arguments paradoxically, the French consumer associations themselves - which for decades have been publishing comparative tests to guide purchasing decisions - would be exposed to the risk of convictions for damages. Precisely in the country where the Jacobin revolution proclaimed the Free which incipits of its motto.

AAA justice sought. Yuka app appeals

The founders of the Yuka app, interviewed by us, declare that they have already filed an appeal with the Paris Court of Appeal, against the sentence of the administrative court.

'Yuka regrets that the arguments of the industrial lobbies have taken over the information and defense of consumers. We maintain serenity and confidence so that justice is restored on appeal '.

The reaction of French consumers

About the story, the two largest French consumer magazines take a different approach.

60 million consumers reports the news and reiterates the danger of nitrates and nitrites. Without clearly taking sides in support of Yuka, he recalls that a substance judged safe by EFSA but dangerous by the scientific literature could suddenly turn out to be 'outlaw', as happened with titanium dioxide on 6.5.21. (4,5)

What to chooseinstead, it maintains a prudential approach. Perhaps for fear of ending up in the crosshairs of lobby industry, the magazine had limited itself to noting, in the last December issue, the pressure of the butchers against the anti-nitrate and nitrite petition promoted by Foodwatch, French Cancer League and Yuka. (6)

Marta Strinati and Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) V. https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/consum-attori/arriva-in-italia-yuka-la-app-che-smaschera-gli-alimenti-squilibrati,

(2) V. https://www.foodwatch.org/fr/sinformer/nos-campagnes/alimentation-et-sante/additifs/petition-stop-aux-nitrites-ajoutes-dans-notre-alimentation/ 

(3) V. https://www.legalis.net/jurisprudences/tribunal-de-commerce-de-paris-1ere-ch-jugement-du-25-mai-2021/

(4) See the interview with ISS researcher Francesco Cubadda, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/salute/stop-al-biossido-di-titanio-intervista-a-francesco-cubadda-esperto-iss 

(5) Patricia Chairopoulos. Nitrites dans la charcuterie: the appli Yuka condamnée. 60 millions of consommateurs. 8.6.21 https://www.60millions-mag.com/2021/06/08/nitrites-dans-la-charcuterie-l-appli-yuka-condamnee-18743

(6) Sels nitrités Les recettes indigestes des charcutiers. Quechoisir 3.12.20 https://www.quechoisir.org/actualite-sels-nitrites-les-recettes-indigestes-des-charcutiers-n85923/

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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