Health

Italy sees red over food labels

Italys politics is turning into a food fight. Or more precisely, a food label fight.

The countrys frontline Euroskeptic, Matteo Salvini, has found yet another reason to attack Brussels. And this time he is whipping up almost universal support at home as he seeks to shoot down Europes increasing usage of so-called traffic light labels.

Health activists say a red-to-green scale marking a products salt, sugar and fat is an arresting way to alert people to what they are eating, but Salvini sees the system as an anti-Italian plot against the Epicurean nations rich, oily delicacies.

“These geniuses,” the leader of far-right League told Italian television this month, referring to EU officials, “are thinking about putting red, yellow and green lights on food, deciding which ones are healthy and which ones are not.”

This was, he argued, all part of a “secret plan” to discriminate against Italys gourmet delicacies, such as olive oil, Parma ham, and Parmigiano cheese, which flash up on the redder-orangey end of the gauge as dangers to health under the scheme.

Health groups and some members of the European Parliament want Brussels to propose making Nutri-Score mandatory, but that is highly unlikely.

Salvinis remarks were targeted at Nutri-Score, a nutrition labeling system that has been gaining momentum across EU countries and businesses, and which has attracted the attention of European Commission policymakers, who are poised to make a recommendation on what might make a Continent-wide standard.

A nation united

Italian outrage over the onward march of Nutri-Score doesnt stop with Salvini, and in fact unites the nation.

The countrys government, a coalition led by the center-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment 5Star Movement, is going to propose an alternative to Nutri-Score, based on the far less alarming image of a charging light blue battery, rather than a traffic light.

“We are against Nutri-Score… and we will present a scientific study hoping that also other countries will understand that we should not punish consumers but educate them,” Italian Minister for Agriculture Teresa Bellanova told POLITICO on December 16.

Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

Health groups and some members of the European Parliament want Brussels to propose making Nutri-Score mandatory, but that is highly unlikely. Romes more immediate fear is that a Commission endorsement, even for the voluntary uptake of the red-yellow-green labels, will make them spread more quickly across Europe and steer consumers away from Italian salamis and cheeses.

“The idea of adopting Nutri-Score on a voluntary basis calls into question the very role of the European Union,” and will result in higher labeling costs for food producers, she added.

Bellanova confirmed that Italy would propose an EU model based on the “battery scheme.”

“We are proposing a battery-style label which will be presented by our government to European institutions over the next weeks,” said Ettore Prandini, the president of Coldiretti, a farm lobby.

The battery scheme is a revised version of the existing “guideline daily amounts” icons, which show the percentage of energy and nutrients from a recommended daily intake in a single serving. In the battery model, the cell is full when the daily average recommended amount of a given nutrient has been reached.

For instance, a 50-gram serving of Parmigiano cheese, an orange light product under the Nutri-Score scheme, would fill half of the saturated fat battery and 0 percent of the sugar battery, according to an estimate made by the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

The problem for the Italians is that they are already playing catch-up. Several EU countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, have committed to Nutri-Score.

Tyranny of the traffic lights

The problem for the Italians is that they are already playing catch-up. Several EU countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, have committed to Nutri-Score. It has also been adopted by leading foodmakers such as Nestlé and Danone.

Some other EU countries have developed their own schemes: a slightly different traffic light regime in the U.K. or a keyhole symbol in Sweden.

The Italian government claims it has done its homework on the alternative. It insists it has conducted interviews with 200 families to verify how they understand the batteries and Nutri-Score, and claims that its scheme performed better.

But Italy has already tried to convince Brussels about the merits the batteries. It first proposed it to the Commission in June 2018.

At that time the proposal convinced neither other EU countries, nor businesses and NGOs. Compared with Nutri-Score, the Italian scheme was considered “too complicated to be useful for busy shoppers who make supermarket purchasing decisions in a matter of seconds,” European consumer organizRead More – Source