Politics

The last score that broke the label’s back – EURACTIV.com


The latest episode in the Nutri-score drama provides a clue that we are closing in on the season’s finale.

Enough is enough, Italians must have thought when they’ve read the latest idea put forward by Serge Hercberg, the professor of nutrition at the University of Paris 13 who is widely considered the father of Nutri-Score.

The designers of #NutriScore proposed that all alcoholic beverages be marked with a black F reserved exclusively for beverages that contain alcohol even in small quantities,” he tweeted on 3 February

According to the expert, alcoholic beverages containing more than 1.2% alcohol are not currently impacted by the Nutri-score due to the 2011 regulation on food information to consumers, which excludes them from the nutritional declaration.

Here’s a short reminder for those who might have missed some episodes in this exciting story full of twists and turns.

The Nutri-Score is a nutrition label that converts the nutritional value of products into a code consisting of five letters, from A to E, each with its own colour.

The system was developed in France and is now also used in five other EU countries – Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain.

This group of Nutri-Score users have even established a transnational coordination mechanism to facilitate the use of the colour-coded label in hopes it will be adopted as the EU-wide mandatory food labelling scheme.

Indeed, the European Commission is expected to put forward a proposal for a harmonised food labelling scheme that will also consider nutritional aspects.

The Commission’s proposal is due in the fourth quarter of 2022 and will be preceded by an impact assessment and stakeholder consultations.

The choice of which kind of nutritional label should be mandatory at the EU level has driven a wedge between those who back the colour-coded system and those opposed to it, aka a front of the Mediterranean countries.

Italians, in particular, argue that the Nutri-score is biased against the Mediterranean diet as it assigns a low score to foods with high energy content, saturated fat, high quantity of sugar or salt (which places all that Italian’s hold dear – namely cheese and oil – on the black list).

Over the past few months, the Italian government has set up a sort of diplomacy against Nutri-score, with several initiatives to promote the Mediterranean diet (and rescue it from Nutri-score).

Italians did not welcome the black F proposal either which, according to the lobby group, the anti-Nutriscore alliance, “has little to do with science and much more with a fundamentalist and paternalistic ideology towards the consumer.”

“I would like to know what Macron thinks of the latest proposal put forward by the Nutri-Score designers, who now suggest putting a black F on all drinks that contain even a small amount of alcohol. Does the French president agree?” Italy’s agriculture under-secretary Gian Marco Centinaio asked provocatively on Twitter.

The Brussels delegation of his party, the far-right Lega, also presented a parliamentary question to the European Commission asking it to clarify its position on the matter.

Italy is also taking advantage of the momentum by pushing on their counterproposal alternative to Nutri-score called Nutrinform battery, which will be officially presented in a high-level event next week.

Just to give a taste of how serious the matter is for the Italian government, the event is organised by the foreign ministry and will see the participation not only of Luigi Di Maio and Stefano Patuanelli, foreign affairs and agriculture ministers respectively, but also of the health minister Roberto Speranza and industry minister Giancarlo Giorgetti.

To be honest, the French already seem to have slowed down on Nutri-score and it has been reported that Macron is mulling over the possibility of not backing it as the new EU-wide food labelling scheme.

Speaking before MEPs in the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie said that the matter is no longer considered an urgent or relevant topic for the government.

But could this last F score be the one that breaks the proverbial camel (or label)’s back?

Without taking any side here, it is true that the Commission always kept a special place in its heart for the European wine sector, which is rightfully considered as part of our heritage.

Those who expected a strong stance against alcohol consumption in the Europe’s Beating cancer plan they presented one year ago were ultimately disappointed when the Commission decided to treat alcoholic drinks differently to tobacco products, targeting only overuse and not its use.

“Certainly the European Union will not ban wine, and we will not label wine as being something that is toxic,” said Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas on that occasion.

Another reason that it’s now unlikely that the colour-coded scheme (together with its new F grade proposal) could get the Commission’s final nod as the EU’s labelling framework.

(By Gerardo Fortuna)

Podcast

This week is the week of pesticides, with both the leak of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive and new rules aimed at accelerating the approval process of biopesticides. EURACTIV also hears from our own Julia Dahm who was on the ground at the agricultural ministers informal meeting in Strasbourg this week, and we hear from EURACTIV Slovakia’s Marián Koreň about the latest news on Slovakia’s missing national strategic plan for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Agrifood stories of the week

German minister: Coalition still unclear on gene editing, animal welfare levy
There is still no agreement in sight within the coalition on several key agricultural issues like gene-editing and the animal welfare levy, German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir revealed in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV Germany.

Commission’s leaked plans on integrated pest management slammed as too weak
A draft revision of the EU’s pesticide framework, obtained by EURACTIV, sets out multi-pronged plans to address shortcomings on integrated pest management (IPM), but campaign groups say these still fall short of what is needed to transform the sector. Natasha Foote has more.

Carbon farming: EU ministers find the devil in the details
While France’s Julien Denormandie lauded member states’ enthusiasm on low-carbon agriculture, the informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Strasbourg revealed tricky technical questions on the matter that still lie ahead. Julia Dahm reports from Strasbourg.

MEP: Commission, Council aim to include organic in EU agri-statistics review
Negotiators aim to include organic agriculture in the EU’s agricultural statistics review and digital technologies can provide a creative way to reduce any additional burden on farmers, the file’s rapporteur Petros Kokkalis told EURACTIV in an interview.

EU green lights new rules to speed up approval, authorisation of biopesticides
Member states have approved new rules to accelerate the approval and authorisation of biological plant protection products containing microorganisms to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides. Natasha Foote has all the details.

Austria tries to force-feed origin label to EU farm ministers
While Austrian Agriculture Minister Elisabeth Köstinger was keen to put the question of a mandatory origin label on the table of this week’s informal ministerial meeting in Strasbourg, participants said it did not make the cut. Learn more.

Lawmakers, stakeholders mull over food production impact of EU green goals
While the debate over potential productivity losses due to the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy continues, lawmakers remain split on the implications of studies on the matter. Julia Dahm has more.

Germany to boost renewables in agriculture, link moorlands with solar panels
Renewable energies are to be used in German agriculture, as the agriculture, climate and environment ministries led by three Green ministers want moor areas – which are key for the climate – to be connected to agricultural photovoltaics. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Commission aims to decarbonise transport by equally taxing fossil and crop-based biofuels
Decarbonising Europe’s transport has always been a tough equation for EU policymakers. However, the puzzle is expected to become even more complex as the European Commission is considering taxing fossil fuels and crop-based biofuels at the same rate, EURACTIV has learnt.

News from the bubble

Ministers, MEPs push on reciprocity: The agricultural ministers of France, Austria and Spain, together with several prominent MEPs, joined forces in Brussels this week to stress the need for non-EU countries to meet Europe’s own food production standards when exporting into Europe. Spanish agricultural minister Luis Planas stressed that it is possible to “bring European production standards to the global sphere,” while French agricultural minister Julien Denormandie once again reiterated the need to “create a political momentum on reciprocity of agri-food standards”.

Commission calls out Czechia, Romania: The European Commission has called on Czechia and Romania to fully transpose the provisions of the Unfair Trading Practices Directive in the agri-food sector. The directive ensures the protection of all farmers, as well as of small and medium-sized suppliers, against 16 unfair trading practices in the food supply chain. It was required to be transposed by 1 May 2021, but many member states missed the deadline, which led to the Commission sending letters of formal notice to 12 member states in July 2021. According to a Commission statement, the EU executive has given the two remaining countries two months to remedy the situation. “Otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer those member states to the Court of Justice of the European Union,” the statement warns. Check out EURACTIV’s special newsletter on the issue for more information.

Pesticide restrictions: The European Commission has reiterated its request to member states to support its proposal aimed at limiting the use of the pesticide Sulfoxaflor to permanent greenhouses in order to protect pollinators. The Commission’s proposal, stemming from its commitment to protect pollinators from pesticides that are harmful to them, was presented to the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, but the necessary qualified majority was not has not yet been reached.

Going green: A new European algae stakeholder platform, called EU4Algae, has been launched this week. The aim of the platform is to accelerate the development of a European algae industry and promote algae for nutrition and other uses among consumers and businesses in the EU.

Creating a buzz: Two new insects have been approved as a novel food this week, Acheta domesticus (the house cricket) and Tenebrio molitor (yellow mealworm), in what stakeholders say represent an additional important step towards an EU-wide harmonised regulatory landscape in the field of edible insects. 

Agrifood news from the CAPitals 

SLOVAKIA

Slovak strategic plan faces next obstacle. The Slovak government has approved its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) national strategic plan for submission to the European Commission despite several attempts by cabinet ministers to stall the process. Marián Koreň and Natasha Foote have more. (EURACTIV.sk with EURACTIV.com)

FRANCE
Commission warns French against changing CAP plans after election. French parties must not change the country’s national strategic plan in the event of a change of government after the elections in April, according to a Commission official, who told EURACTIV that the plan’s “core elements” must not be touched and only fine-tuning would be possible. Natasha Foote has the story. (EURACTIV.com)

GERMANY
Ministry supports humus for climate protection. The German agri ministry has granted funding worth € 23 million to a project for building up humus in agricultural soils. 150 farms are taking part in the project, which is a joint initiative between the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) and the Organic Farming Association (BÖLW). To receive the funding, the farms can choose from a catalogue of possible measures for the protection and buildup of humus. “Humus buildup is climate action”, agri minister Cem Özdemir said when handing over the grant certificate, adding that the project was an “important contribution” to sustainable farming. The project also aims to test different measures that are adapted to different forms of production and regional specificities. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

AUSTRIA

Austria steps in to aid pig farmers. The country has extended its “loss compensation” scheme for pig farmers, who have been suffering from falling producer prices due to the pandemic and outbreaks of African Swine Flu (ASF). € 20 million are earmarked for the programme. Georg Strasser, MP and president of the national Farmers’ association, welcomed the measure as an “important step to at least partially offset losses”. The European Commission had recently refused to step in with EU-wide market measures, citing signs of recovery on the market. “If you look at rising prices for energy and supplies, you see that this calculation cannot be true,” Austria’s agricultural minister, Elisabeth Köstinger, said when asked by EURACTIV on the sidelines of this week’s minister meeting in Strasbourg. Even if producer prices were stabilising, costs for things like fertilisers and pesticides were still high, she explained. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

SPAIN

Farmers could face significant losses due to drought. Spanish countrysides are under strain from continued drought, which could lead to losses worth hundreds of millions of euros. The government, meanwhile, has promised to do “everything that is necessary” to alleviate the situation. EURACTIV’s partner EFE AGRO has more.

GREECE

Agri minister sacked after outcry. Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, sacked agri minister Spilios Livanos after a video surfaced on social media. The clip shows Livanos laughing over comments about the 2007 wildfires, which brought 84 deaths. While Mitsotakis has already replaced Livanos, the new minister has already come under fire as well. Read the full story here.

ITALY

Prosecco squabble goes to Strasbourg. The quarrel that pits Italians and Croatians against each other over the granting Dalmatian wine prošek the EU protection has been placed on the agenda of the European Parliament’s plenary next week. The Commission will also join the debate on Thursday and address the concerns from Italians, who think that this wine branding evoked the protected Prosecco sparkling wine. To know more about this squabble, check out our video explainer. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

UK

Applications open for UK farmers.
Farmers and land managers are being encouraged to apply for the UK’s new countryside stewardship scheme after it was opened this week. The scheme gives farmers the opportunity to be paid for environmental work alongside sustainable food production, from restoring wildlife habitats and creating woodlands to managing flood risks. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND

Solar power coming to Irish farms. Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue has confirmed plans to launch a 60% grant for on-farm solar projects later this year during a recent Irish Farmers’ Association AGM, according to the Irish Examiner. This is designed to help mitigate farm emissions, help Ireland reach renewable energy targets and improve the resilience of farm business against rising energy costs. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

CROATIA

Farmers see most expensive sowing season. Croatia is facing its historically most expensive spring sowing, in which costs per hectare could reach 6.000 kuna (€800), the Croatian Chamber of Agriculture (HPK) warned. The Chamber explained that, due to the drastic rise in prices of seeds, mineral fertilisers, oil and all other raw materials, it is necessary to find solutions to calm this extremely difficult situation. Otherwise, farmers will give up sowing or will do so in conditions of cost reduction which will reflect on yields and production levels, they added. Meanwhile, farmers fear possible shortages of fertilisers as a result of the suspension or reduction of production in most European factories, and the rise in gas prices, which have ramifications for the cost of agricultural inputs, is putting a further strain on farming businesses. Agri minister Marija Vučković, said the current crisis went beyond the ministry of agriculture, but that the government will try to find solutions that will alleviate this situation.

Events

14 February | ENVI committee meeting with an exchange of views with French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie

14 February | EURACTIV event on the sustainable agriculture transformation agenda for Africa

14-18 February | EU-Africa Business Forum 2022, including a panel on agri-food value chains

15-18 February | BIOFACH 2022 – Nürnberg

17-18 February | EU-AU summit




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