The Joint Research Center (Joint Research Center, JRC) of the European Commission has updated its scientific review on synthetic nutritional labeling systems on the front side of prepackaged food packages (Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labeling, FOPNL), to confirm the validity of the approach adopted in the NutriScore system. (1)
1) Synthetic nutritional labeling on the front of the packaging, FOPNL. Premise
'Member States may recommend to food business operators the use of one or more additional forms of expression or presentation of the nutrition declaration that they believe will best meet the requirements' of
- scientific substantiation and non-misleading consumers on the essential characteristics of food,
- after consulting consumers and other interested social partners (stakeholders),
- facilitating consumers 'understanding of the contribution or importance of (individual) foods'for the purpose of the energy and nutritional contribution of a diet'
- demonstration 'that the average consumer understands such forms of expression or presentation’,
- use of the reference assumptions referred to in Annex XIII to reg. EU 1169/11,
- objectivity, non-discrimination, absence of obstacles to the free movement of goods (EU regulation 1169/11, art. 35, paragraphs 1 and 2).
1.1) FOPNL, the role of the European Commission
The European legislator, in Food Information Regulation, delegated the Commission to:
- collect data from Member States on forms of nutrition labeling on the front of food packaging (FOPNL),
- evaluate the effectiveness of the different systems, in relation to the objective of improving the nutritional security of the populations and so on
- contribute to reducing the serious social burden, as well as the impact on health costs, of noncommunicable diseases related to unbalanced diets, through the
- definition of a harmonized nutrition labeling system on the label front, to be applied at EU level.
1.2) EU Reg. 1169/11, the delegation
'By 13 December 2017In the light of the experience gained, the Commission submits a report to the European Parliament and the Council
- on the use of additional forms of expression and presentation,
- their effect on the internal market and the desirability of further harmonizing these forms of expression and presentation. (...)
The Commission may accompany this report with proposals to amend the relevant Union provisions'(EU reg. 1169/11, art. 35.5).
2) Work in progress
The European Commission is carrying out the above works, as we have seen. (2) Thanks to the scientific contributions of JRC - which had already expressed itself in 2020 with the now updated report - and of EFSA (European Food Safety Authority, 2022). (3) In addition to organizing a public consultation, which ended on 7.3.22. (4)
Il Joint Research Center (JRC), in the publication in question, confirmed the scientific reviews already shared. (5) To reaffirm, (yes, you can learn it), that FOPNL systems must:
- draw the attention of consumers, (6)
- be understandable (as opposed to the Italian NutrInform), (7)
- impact on various socio-economic groups, shopping and health,
- stimulate reformulation of food products,
- be unique.
3) European Commission, the new research
The new research of the JRC, European Commission, updates the scientific review on the effectiveness of the different nutrition labeling systems on the packaging front (FOPNL) with respect to the above objectives. Considering the scientific studies published since 1990, also under the perspectives of:
- reference quantity (100 g / ml v. portion / consumption unit),
- mandatory v. voluntariness,
- combined presence of several FOPNLs,
- ultraprocessed and non-processed foods (eg traditional products, DOP) in comparison.
3.1) Scientific review
The scientific review it considered 2.450 studies to select 275. Research on these topics has increased significantly, even on the most modern nutritional labeling systems (eg NutriScore). With attention also to individual susceptibility and the multiple factor interactions, which can influence the choices of the typical consumer, and of the various categories of consumers.
3.2) Attention and color
Seize attention of a consumer is essential to convey the information:
- in general terms, consumers greatly appreciate the FOPNL systems, because they are more visible and easier to understand than the nutritional declarations placed on the back label,
- colors are an ideal tool because they allow you to learn the news at a glance, without forcing the reader to the mental processes required to decipher the monochromatic indications, which discourage reading.
3.3) FOPNL in comparison
Le warning labels they seem to be the most effective in discouraging the purchase of less healthy foods, as they indicate the least healthy choices (and not the healthiest ones), and are effective on a specific type of food.
Nutri score, and other systems (eg. Multiple Traffic Lights, Health Star Rating) are instead also effective in encouraging the purchase of more balanced foods. The Reference Assumptions logos (Reference Intakes, formerly known as GDA, Guidelines Daily Amounts) are less effective.
3.4) Impacts on purchasing choices
Experimental studies in the laboratory e online demonstrate a strong efficacy of color systems, with a favorable impact on the nutritional quality of the food choices made. Especially in individuals motivated to eat better.
The experiments real life they recorded a lower impact, also due to other factors (eg price, promotions) which in turn influence the choices of consumers and of some of their categories in particular.
The capacity of FOPNL systems to influence consumers' understanding, choices and virtuous behaviors lead us to consider it useful to foresee their mandatory nature.
The effectiveness of these systems is also greater when they do not overlap. And it is therefore preferable, for example, to add the Reference Assumptions (Reference Intakes) to the NutriScore.
3.6) 100 g / ml v. portions
Report nutritional values of a food with several units of measurement (eg 100 g / ml and portion) can make it difficult to read and confuse consumers. Many studies thus report that:
- Consumers tend to get confused when, in the presence of multiple portions, the information is referred to a single portion,
- the data referring to small portions lead the consumer to underestimate the inputs of energy (kcal) and other nutrients.
3.7) Ultraprocessed foods
The level of transformation of foods is considered important for identifying ultraprocessed foods that in many cases qualify as junk food (HFSS, High in Fats, Sugar and Sodium).
Precisely therefore NutriScore recently introduced a sign - the black shape around the NutriScore logo, with the words'ultraprocessed food'. In line with scientific recommendations.
4) NutriScore, controversial love
Il NutriScore is the system most loved by Italian consumers, some millions of whom use it every day to choose the foods to buy through the Yuka app, which in the Bel Paese has in fact received a extraordinary success. But this love is opposed by Ferrero and Coldiretti, who they command instead politics and the mass media.
This system gives each food a score (from –15 to +40) and thus classifies each food into five categories, identified with a letter (from A to E) and a color (from green to orange). The score derives from the application of an algorithm that considers positive nutritional factors as well as negative ones. And it is subject to periodic updates, on a shared scientific basis. (9)
5) Provisional conclusions
Il Joint Research Center (JRC) of the European Commission gave a substantially favorable opinion to various FOPNL systems, noting that:
- the interpretative and colored nutritional information is more effective, due to its ease of reading and immediate comprehensibility, than
- reductive indications (eg. Reference Intakes) and monochromatic, as well as those redundant with numbers (eg. Multiple Traffic Lights).
The NutriScore system it has all the characteristics to be favored over others. All the more so since this system has been effectively applied by the governments of seven European countries - 3 of which out of 4 leader in agri-food production (Germany, France, Spain) - where the culture of food is by no means neglected.
It reaffirms itself therefore the need to proceed in this direction, in the primary interest of citizens and the protection of public health. (10) The petition in favor of NutriScore is awaiting as many subscriptions as possible, at the link https://chng.it/BghbbGMW
# SDG3, Ensure health and well-being
Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna
(1) Nohlen et al. (2022). Front-of-pack nutritional labeling scheme: an update of the evidence - Addendum to the JRC Science Policy report "Front-of-pack nutrition labeling schemes: a comprehensive review", published in 2020. JRC Science for Policy Report, https: / /doi.org/10.2760/932354
(2) Dario Dongo. NutriScore and nutritional profiles, updates from Brussels. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10.05.21
(3) Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Improve diet and public health with useful news on the label. EFSA opinion on nutritional profiles. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.04.22
(4) Dario Dongo. Reform reg. EU 1169/11, public consultation. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.1.22
(5) Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. How to solve the nutritional conundrum? News on the label front, review and perspectives. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 29.12.20
(6) For example, the effectiveness of the recall offered by the warning labels used in Central America and Canada. V. Dario Dongo. Canada, label warnings on saturated fats, sugars and salt. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade)... 16.7.22
(7) Dario Dongo. NutrInform Battery, the battery operated label. An Italian shame. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10.11.20
(8) Dario Dongo. NutriScore, the signal on ultraprocessed foods is added. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 21.12.21
(9) Dario Dongo. NutriScore, evolution of the algorithm on a scientific basis. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 1.8.22
(10) Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. NutriScore, consumer health prevails over agro-industrial lobbies. Petition and insights. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade)... 18.5.22