As Europe continues to battle the serious impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of citizens’ health and well being has been thrown into sharp relief. But when the pandemic will eventually be overcome, the already serious obesity epidemic will continue to strongly impact the health of many consumers across the European Union if urgent action is not taken now.
This week the European Commission is due to come forward with its eagerly awaited Farm to Fork Strategy. It is expected to outline its plans for the harmonisation of front-of-pack nutritional labels in the EU.
We are calling on the Commission to grasp the opportunity with both hands and come forward with a legislative proposal to make the colour-coded Nutri-Score label mandatory on food products EU-wide. With one in two adults and a shocking one in three children obese or overweight in Europe, it is vital that we do not let slide any chances we get to help make the healthier choice the easier choice for shoppers.
Consumers need on the spot, speedy info to make healthier choices
In today’s food environment, where consumers are all too often nudged towards foods high in fat, salt, or sugar, it is not easy for consumers to make healthy choices.
Given that people make their purchasing decisions in a matter of seconds, they need to be able to glean key nutritional information at-a-glance. A well-designed and colour-coded label which helps them to do just that, such as the Nutri-Score, cannot come a moment too soon.
Such labels are recognised by health experts and an increasing number of national governments as essential parts of the policy toolkit to tackle the high levels of obesity and overweight widespread in Europe. Already six EU Member States (France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) have endorsed the use of Nutri-Score in their countries.
Over 40 peer-reviewed independent scientific studies have demonstrated that the Nutri-Score label is currently the best scheme for consumers to help them compare the nutritional value of foods across a range of products. Supermarket trials in France showed that the label led to consumers choosing healthier products.
That is why we, along with almost 40 other cross-sector groups recently sent a letter to the Health Commissioner to ask that the European Commission come forward with a legislative proposal to make the Nutri-Score scheme mandatory on food products across the EU.
Another decade waiting while the clock ticks for another health crisis?
Some recent media reports however have indicated that the European Commission may not be planning to move so swiftly on this issue.
Instead, there is now a very real possibility that we may not see a proposal until even 2023! Knowing how long the often complex European legislative process can take and the often generous transition periods allowed even after the legislation is adopted, this means that it could well be a decade before we see a mandatory front-of-pack nutritional label on all food products across Europe.
The Nutri-Score is a tool which we already know works well in helping consumers to make healthier choices. Missing the opportunity to make it widely available to consumers would be a major mistake for public health. We cannot, and do not need to, wait another ten years to properly tackle obesity.