Antonio Torres del Cerro |
Bobigny (France) (EFE).- “It is good that the grade of olive oil is going to be improved, but it is not legitimate that it has the A, because, like rapeseed, they are 100% fat,” the director told EFE. creator of nutritional labeling NutriScore, the French scientist Serge Hercberg.
Hercberg, one of the eminences of nutrition in Europe, takes stock, in an interview with EFE, of this labeling that has almost as many supporters as detractors. The former believe that it provides valuable information for the consumer to eat healthier, while the latter accuse this system of being confusing and incomplete.
The veteran researcher highlights that the new notes that the NutriScore algorithm will give from mid-2023 will be more precise: it will improve olive oil or fatty fish and degrade breakfast cereals -normally with a high sugar content- and red meat.
Along with this new (and controversial) evaluation, the nutritionist and epidemiologist also talks about the promise by the European Commission (EC) to present a proposal for a directive to adopt this labeling on a mandatory basis in the EU. From 2022 it has been postponed until 2023, although Hercberg fears that it will only happen in 2024, after the elections to the European Parliament.
“The NutriScore bothers certain economic interests, certain states as well, such as Italy, which put tremendous pressure on it to stop it or to withdraw its essence,” denounces the renowned scientist, already retired from the front line, but considered an authority on the nutrition.
The familiar multicolor label with five letters, from green (A) for the healthiest products, to red (E) for the least, is adopted by seven European countries (the pioneer was France in 2017 and another six followed, including Spain). . Brands apply this system voluntarily, often due to pressure from consumers.
The father of the NutriScore is pleased with its impact. “It is based on accredited scientific data, consumers approve it and, although it has its limits, it is capable of influencing consumer selection and their state of health in the medium-long term.”
From the basement of the Sorbonne Paris-Nord University where thousands of biological samples from French people are kept in ultra-freezers, used to verify the impact of diet on their health (diabetes, hypertension, cancer), Hercberg cannot help but remember his shocks with the big brands, the distribution firms and the television networks that are financed with food advertising.
And, as he recounts in his recent book (“Tais-Toi et mange!” “Shut up and eat!” by HumenSciences), also the pressure from certain political groups more permeable to “those economic interests”. Giorgia Meloni’s Italy leads the fierce opposition to this labeling. She considers that products such as cheeses and native charcuterie are “stigmatized” by the NutriScore.
The French researcher acknowledges the limits of the system he created (he does not recommend quantity, nor does he analyze the origin, nor if it contains pesticides, or ultra-processed), but considers it the most complete to provide nutritional information in the clearest and most synthetic way.
«We are not able to add all these elements in a single labeling. You have to accept the idea that segmented and complementary information should be given”, estimates Hercberg, who recalls that the other reference labels, such as those of the United Kingdom, Australia or Chile are also limited.
The paradox of Chocapic and olive oil
Five years after it was launched in France, the NutriScore’s effect on recipes is already noticeable. Nestle’s Chocapic breakfast cereals have significantly reduced sugar content and added more fiber with whole wheat. The effect was an improvement of the grade, from “C” to “A.”
“On the one hand, it shows that industrialists can improve their products, but, on the other, a good classification of some cannot confuse consumers. The new algorithm supported by a scientific committee penalizes salty and sugary products more and breakfast cereals (such as Chocapic) cannot have an A », he says.
The olive oil sector in Spain has been one of those considered most affected by the NutriScore. Even though your grade will progress from “C” to “B,” the industry demands the highest grade.
Hercberg defends the benefits of this emblematic Spanish and Mediterranean product, although he justifies that it does not have a maximum grade due to its fat content (100%).
«I read a lot in the Spanish press that the olive oil sector wants class A. I wonder, is it the economic sector that decides how to classify a product or is it scientists? Tomorrow Coca-Cola will say that it wants an A or a B and the Nutella from the Ferrero group that it wants a better evaluation », he concludes.