The Nutrinform Battery and the labels battle

The Nutriscore’s colors penalize the Mediterranean diet and our agri-food excellence. From Italy, the proposal of a formula with correct nutritional information: the Nutrinform Battery. The floor now goes to Brussels.

The Nutrinform Battery is the Italian response to traffic light labels that claim to identify with green colour the healthy foods. Colour that turns red for foods to be “handled” with caution. Then, go from a rainbow of shades, from yellow to orange, for the intermediate degrees of nutritional healthiness. The name of these multi-coloured labels is Nutriscore, but its application reserves many critical issues.

For example, extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano are among the “bad foods,” hams and salami are forbidden, pasta is treated with severity. But nothing is said in terms of nutrients and quantity, which Italian Nutrinform does instead. To better understand the differences between one method and another, however, it is necessary to take a step back to the origins of this “battle” of labels.

The #NutrinformBattery comes from #Italy. It offers #nutritional informations and suggests how to best compose your #diet. Click To Tweet

The idea of putting a traffic light on food started in the UK in 2012. The aim was to give consumers an easy-to-understand tool for choosing food. What better than a “traffic light,” which with a green or red colour suggests what is healthy and what is not? So, foods that abound in energy and fat or salt or sugar have the red color. Those rich in fibers have a green colour. Simple, even too much. So much so that it is misleading for the consumer, more than helping him in a conscious choice. Also, the European Commission’s judgment was critical, which initiated infringement proceedings in 2014, considering these labels to be grounds for preventing the free movement of goods.

Despite these limitations, French liked the Nutriscore and reinterpreted it in 2017, adding various shades of colour in the transition from green to red. Also identifying each colour with a letter, from A to E. A sort of imitation of the “formula” on the energy efficiency of some household appliances. This is how the French “traffic light” was born, adopted (voluntarily) in France, Belgium, and Spain, despite the European Commission’s negative opinion expressed in the past.

However, the country you go and label you find. Still, it remains a reason for the consumer’s confusion and an obstacle to the free movement of goods between the European Union countries. This is an unnecessary complication for agri-food companies, forced to labeling in different ways for exports depending on their destination. So, in Brussels, it has been long debating the possibility of adopting a standard food rating system. One of them could be French Nutriscore. For many Italian agri-food excellences, however, this choice could result in an unjustified penalty. Here then comes the Nutrinform Battery from Italy, which offers nutritional information and suggests how to compose your diet best.

The “battery” label is ready to go. The decree introducing the nutritional logo has already been signed by the three departments with competence in economic development, health, and agricultural policies. Its development involved the National Institute of Health and the Crea (Council for Agricultural Research), to guarantee its validity, tested on representative samples of consumers. The battery label’s adoption will be voluntarily, a test case for offering the European legislator evaluation tools for a wise choice.

The #Nutrinform logo shows the content in #energy, #fats, #SaturatedFats, #sugars, and #salt of a single portion of #food. Click To Tweet

The matter then shifts to Brussels, which will also have to give its opinion on the Scandinavian proposal (the Key-Hole), that just put green colour on foods considered healthy and nothing else. Several multinationals are in favour of the Nutriscore. In addition to France, which has perfected it, it finds the favour of Belgium and Germany and some reservations about Spain. Our Nutrinform Battery has yet to take its first steps. Still, it already finds the appreciation of French farmers (critical of Nutriscore) and German nutritionists, aware of the limitations of the French model.

A few more details about the Nutrinform can be useful to understand better how it works. The logo shows the content in energy, fats, saturated fats, sugars, and salts present in a single food portion. Energy is represented both in joules and in the most common expression of Calories. The other elements are expressed in grams. But the originality of the formula lies in the symbols of the batteries (the common energy accumulators), with the percentage that a single portion provides for each of the nutrients listed. Percentages referring to the recommended daily intake quantities effectively empower the consumer to choose a healthy and balanced diet.

Only #foods with a designation of origin, such as #PDO, #PGI, and #STG, are excluded from the #NutrinformLabels. Click To Tweet

Only foods with a designation of origin, such as PDO, PGI, and STG, are excluded from the Nutrinform labels, due to the risk of preventing the consumer from recognizing the quality mark related to the origin.

It is now up to two strict examiners. Consumers will show the preferred way through their choices, and the European legislator will have to decide which instrument to focus on. Not a simple decision, which will have to consider many factors, such as the interest of the consumer, the technical feasibility, the commitment and costs incurred by industries, and the “portability” of the method chosen in the different European realities. It will not be easy, and the risk of a downward compromise is just around the corner as long as they are not the Mediterranean diet’s excellences that suffer.

For more information about the Nutrinform Battery, read the NutrInform Use Manual with portions and the Decree Scheme on this nutrition labeling.

Professional journalist, graduated in veterinary medicine, director of journals dedicated to animal husbandry and editor in chief of journals in the agricultural sector, he has held coordination positions in publishing companies. Author of books on animal breeding, he is involved in the divulgation of technical, political and economic subjects of interest to the livestock sector.