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Article: Kyriakides says EU’s mandatory FOP label will be based on consultation and impact assessment

02 June 2020

This article has been taken from our IEG Policy platform dated 02/06/20.

EU Health and Food Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has made clear that the European Commission will not propose a mandatory, harmonised, Europe-wide front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition label without a full impact assessment and consultation.

Kyriakides spoke in response to questions from MEPs about plans for the EU label set out in the May 20 Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy. The strategy foresees a proposal for a harmonised mandatory FOP label emerging in the fourth quarter of 2022.

In the two years running up to the proposal Kyriakides told the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee that the type of labelling will be discussed and there will be an impact assessment.

"Why are we doing it?" Kyriakides asked, answering that consumers "have a right" to the information that will allow them to make informed choices. Kyriakides stressed that the aim was to provide better consumer information on food.

Representing the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Croatian MEP Biljana Borzan, said "we've been saying for many years that consumers want more information," before asking whether the Commission will come forward with a specific scheme.

Italian MEPs slam Nutri-Score

All the Italian MEPs that spoke about FOP labelling were scathing about the Nutri-Score, whatever political group they belonged to.

For example, Silvia Sardone, for the far-right Identity and Democracy group (ID), said that the Nutri-Score "discriminated" against natural foods in favour of industrial, processed products and was difficult to apply to the Mediterranean diet.

Sardone said that "large multinationals like Danone and Nestlé have been pushing for this system."

The S&D's Alexandra Moretti, was equally critical of the Nutri-Score, telling the committee that "I will never tire of saying that consumers should be informed and not conditioned."

Moretti continued that "you shouldn't say food is good or bad according to an algorithm."

Like Sardone, Moretti called for the future EU label to take into account different cultures in the bloc.

Colour-coding positive, report finds

The report on "the use of additional forms of expression and presentation of the nutrition declaration" that the Commission published alongside the F2F strategy, which Kyriakides was discussing with the MEPs, seems to come out in favour of colour-coding, if not the Nutri-Score scheme or any one label in particular.

It concludes that "experimental studies looking at consumers' intentions to purchase, show that FOP labels, especially colour-coded labels, can improve the healthfulness of consumers' shopping baskets."

The conclusions go on to say: "Some studies do confirm that evaluative FOP schemes using colour-coding and/or colour-coding in combination with a graded indicator can improve the nutritional quality of food choices in real-life. Several other studies also show that the effect of a FOP scheme can be substantial if its introduction is combined with awareness and/or communication campaigns."

Nevertheless, the report acknowledges that there is not enough empirical evidence to show that FOP labels have an impact on diet and health, "but modelling studies suggest a positive effect, in particular of evaluative labels."

While there is some evidence - mainly self-reported data - that FOP labels edge companies towards reformulation, the report says "it must be noted that some agricultural food products cannot be easily reformulated due to their compositional or traditional characteristics."

Evidence is also limited about the impact that the different schemes recommended by member states or adopted by companies on a voluntary basis have on the internal market.

"The fact that a FOP scheme is recommended by a Member State could imply that the average consumer gives a preference to products labelled with the official scheme and create a pressure on EU food business operators to label all products present on the national market with the officially promoted scheme," the report acknowledges.

"The use of different FOP schemes in the internal market could result in certain costs for businesses as well as consumer confusion and lack of trust," it adds.

The report highlights the differences between some member states and companies that favour interpretative labelling like the Nutri-Score, and others that would prefer more reductive schemes that simply state what nutrients are in a product, often with the percentage of the reference intake that this represents, with no interpretation.

However, the report makes clear that whatever side member states, businesses or civil society groups find themselves on, many "favour a common harmonised approach, arguing that the co-existence of a range of FOP schemes in the EU market can lead to market fragmentation and consumer confusion."

The report also suggests that work on developing the future label and nutrient profiles (to determine which products can carry health and nutrition claims) could be carried out in tandem because of the "strong link" between them.

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