Nutrition label should be compulsory to beat junk food, says French consumer watchdog

April 20, 2023

French consumer organisation UFC-Que Choisir is calling for compulsory Nutri-Score labelling to improve food standards and nutrition of unhealthier foods

According to a study by the organisation, this noting of nutritional information has led to an improvement in health quality in foods. The association is urging France to mobilise and defend the Nutri-Score with the European authorities, and the European Commission to make it compulsory in the EU.

The UFC-Que Choisir said it identified “a very significant improvement in the nutrient quality of foods for three families of foods where the label is most often displayed” – cereal bars (43% display), special breads and rusks (61%) and cereals of breakfast (97%).

In just seven years, UFC-Que Choisir added that the proportion of favourable ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ for cereal bars doubled from 25% to 49%. At the same time, the share of Nutri-Score ‘A’ and ‘B’ grew nearly five-fold for breakfast cereals, from 8% to 38%, and increased from 40% to 62% for specialty breads and rusks.

For example, after notably reducing fat, sugar or salt levels, all Nestlé cereal bars are now Nutri-Score ‘C’ or ‘B’, the study said. Meanwhile, the ‘Chabrior’ 3-chocolate muesli from Intermarché or the tortillas from ‘La Boulangère’ both gained a class by moving to ‘B’ and ‘A’ respectively.

Without Nutri-Score displayed, junk food prospers

The other four categories of food studied have shown no major changes since 2015. The Nutri-Score was shown as 17% for biscuits and cakes, 17% for bars and chocolate snacks, 10% for condiment sauces, and less than 1% for ice creams and sorbets.

The cumulative proportion of ‘E’ and ‘D’ calculated by the association is indeed still the majority in 2022 for ice cream and sorbets (52% ) and reached three quarters of the references for condiment sauces. Worse, it represents no less than nine out of ten products in the bars and chocolate snacks or biscuits and cakes departments.

In conclusion UFC-Que Choisir noted that its analysis highlights the major limitations of the voluntary display of the score.

Firstly, because the logo is absent from the most unbalanced products for which households have every interest in limiting consumption. In fact, products agreeing to display a Nutri-Score ‘E’ on their packaging represent only 1% of all national brand foods.

Secondly, because the leaders of junk food stubbornly refuse to present it on their products which are generally poorly rated. However, this opacity anesthetizes any incentive to reduce revenue.

Having demonstrated that the label highlights local products and that it encourages manufacturers to improve the quality of their recipes, UFC-Que Choisir is concerned with guaranteeing consumers understandable information on the whole press food offer:

As well as making the label compulsory, UFC-Que Choisir wants France to promote and defend it with the European authorities.

In the meantime, the organisation is advising French consumers to use its free application ‘QuelProduit’ which displays the Nutri-Score of all food products, including those which don’t carry the information.

About the study

UFC-Que Choisir assessed the impact of the optional Nutri-Score display on the nutritional quality of food products. It identified seven families of foods with significant levels of saturated fat, sugar or salt and for which manufacturers could modify their recipes. The association then compared between 2015 and 2022 the distribution of the food offer of these departments according to their score, by calculating it when it was not displayed. To complete the analysis, the recent evolution of nutritional values was studied for the 169,000 food products referenced in the ‘QuelProduit’ application.

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