Wednesday

12th May 2021

Stakeholder

Europe must not turn its back on the Mediterranean diet

  • The Mediterranean diet has been recognised by UNESCO. But not by algorithms (Photo: Wikimedia)

Last year, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of UNESCO's designation of this Mediterranean diet as a "Cultural Heritage of Humanity".

Then, why is the European Commission undermining the exceptional Mediterranean products that belong to our diet, thus putting at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs and an entire industry hit hard by Covid-19?

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Is a can of Coca-Cola Zero really 'healthier'? (Photo: Renew Europe)

And, more importantly, what can be done to change course?

The issue on the table is the decision by the European Commission to move ahead with the harmonised and mandatory European Front-of-Pack-Labelling (FOPL) scheme as part of the Farm to Fork strategy.

Considering that several EU countries are implementing (or have already done so) the Nutri-Score system, it seems highly likely that the European Commission will work on this basis.

Let us begin by explaining what the Nutri-Score system is.

It is a label on food packaging which classifies foods by calculating a nutritional score based on a five-colour scale - where 'A', or green, represents the healthiest option, and 'E', or red, the less healthy one - giving the food a generally positive or negative nutritional profile.

This front-of-pack nutrition-labelling scale is calculated by using an algorithm developed by a team of researchers.

As responsible consumers, we want simple and clear labelling rules that help us understand the nutritional components of the products we buy, so that we can easily compare them with others and make informed decisions.

Having an harmonised scheme in Europe will also avoid product discriminations, thus making our single market stronger.

So far, so good.

The issue arises when the output of the algorithm underlying the Nutri-score system for a given product results in a label that clearly misleads consumers and guides them towards lower-quality products. In such circumstances, we would expect the authorities and the experts behind the algorithm to understand what went wrong, and to fix it.

Faulty algorithm

This is the situation we are in. The algorithm underlying the Nutriscore scheme misleads consumers by, for example, signalling that a can of Coca-Cola Zero is healthier than a bottle of olive oil.

And this is just an example, because what the Nutriscore scheme systematically does is to undermine natural products that are symbols of the Mediterranean diet, most of which already have a ¨EU quality seal¨, and over-promote industrial products that are less healthy for our children and consumers.

The scheme also punishes uni-ingredients, such as cheese or Iberian ham, whose positive nutritional components have been widely proved by several studies.

Behind each product with a EU quality seal that is penalised by Nutriscore, there are smallholder farmers, producers, agricultural workers and a whole industry hit hard by Covid-19.

They have demonstrated to be true heroes during the pandemic and they do not deserve that a blind algorithm ignores their very particular situation.

We therefore call for the European Commission to open the debate about the algorithm that decides the final colour scale of the product before the Nutriscore scheme becomes mandatory.

More specifically, we request that the European Commission reconsider how certain vegetable fats are treated, so that we can avoid misleading situations such as the one I explained above with the Coca Cola and oilve oil.

Last but not least, Nutri-score is only one of the many systems that could be used to achieve the same goals. Italy or Czech Republic use alternative schemes, to name a few other countries.

As legislators, we need to have an open discussion, with the European institutions and the industry, and create a system that truly helps our consumers make healthier choices every time they go to the supermarket.

Author bio

Adrián Vázquez Lázara is an MEP with the Renew Europe group.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

Pandemic reveals weakness of EU food system

The coronavirus outbreak exposed the need to transform the EU's farming and food systems, to a more sustainable agricultural system that can be resilient to future shocks. The long-anticipated 'Farm to Fork' strategy can make this difference, campaigners say.

Incorporating gender in trade policy to benefit all

International research shows, countries that engage with international trade tend to have more gender-equality than less open economies. Trade policy is thus a powerful tool to create opportunities for women - if used properly.

Europe & Africa - rebuilding the future

We often talk about the need to establish a relationship between equals in our partnership with Africa. This paradigm needs to be more than a declaration of good intentions

News in Brief

  1. Israeli rockets kill 20 people in Gaza retaliation
  2. No more EU expulsions likely over Russia bomb attacks
  3. EU ready to ignore Hungary veto on Hong Kong
  4. Borrell admits EU neglect of Western Balkans
  5. Macron accused of 'cowardice and deceit' in military letter
  6. EU citizens in UK applying for settled status face legal limbo
  7. Netherlands gives €2bn to offshore carbon storage project
  8. Germany will allow Johnson & Johnson vaccine for all ages

Synergy need to tackle climate change in Mediterranean

The Interreg Med, a cross-border initiative of 13 countries around the Mediterranean Sea, has made the fight against climate change the cornerstone of its strategy for the next years - since the region is facing irreversible environmental damage.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Russia penetrated Merkel's 'inner circle', Khodorkovsky says
  2. First recovery euros could be paid out in July
  3. Commission wants help for Italy after weekend's migrant arrivals
  4. Mercosur trade deal will fuel 'poison pesticides' back into EU
  5. Can new Iran talks avoid mistakes of the original JCPOA?
  6. EU and US urge Israel to defuse Jerusalem violence
  7. Frontex 'mislabelling minors as adults' on Greek islands
  8. Has Albania really met the 15 tests to join the EU? No

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us