The Italian government says no to the traffic light label! Four ministers lined up against the Nutri-Score

Why is half the Draghi government interested in the traffic light label? This is a topic that up to now in Italy has interested insiders, a small number of people who gravitate around the food industry, lobbies, some advertising agencies and little else. Il Fatto Alimentare is the press organ that has supported the project for years and with a certain conviction, together with very few others (Altroconsumo, Great Italian food trade). Despite this, the presentation of the Nutrinform Battery nutritional labeling scheme, proposed by Italy as an alternative to the Nutri-Score traffic light system, will be held on 15 February 2022 at 10.30 in the Farnesina International Conference Room.

The novelty is that representatives of diplomacy, politics, institutions, the industrial sector and the academic world will take part in the event organized by the Farnesina in collaboration with Federalimentare. In fact, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Luigi Di Maio, the Minister of Agricultural Policies, Stefano Patuanelli, the Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza, the secretary general of the Farnesina, the ambassador Ettore Francesco Sequi, and the president of Federalimentare, Ivan Vacondio as well as the Minister of Economic Development, Giancarlo Giorgetti, who will intervene remotely. The Undersecretary of State Vincenzo Amendola will close the event. It is an exceptional parterre, which usually meets only on special occasions, unanimously deployed against the Nutri-Score traffic light label which in Europe is now adopted by seven nations. In France it is used voluntarily by 600 food companies, as well as having received the approval of 42 scientific societies and a thousand nutritionists and doctors. At an international level, the traffic light has been judged positively by the WHO and the IARC, and will probably be officially adopted by the EU by the end of the year. Despite this high number of positive opinions, Italy says no.

Yet our country has distinguished itself in these two years of Covid for having followed the opinion of the scientists gathered in the Scientific Technical Committee and, a few days ago, for having rejected the theses in favor of biodynamic agriculture which are a bit imaginative and lacking in scientific arguments . Why is it now rejecting a labeling model universally recognized by nutritionists and scientists as useful for consumers? Our country not only rejects the traffic light label, but offers the Nutrinform Battery as an alternative, a model so complex and difficult to understand even by insiders. Suffice it to say that 14 numerical references are concentrated in the small space of a label. The difficulty of decoding the Nutrinform Battery, officially introduced in Italy just over a year ago, is one of the reasons why it has so far been used only by a large food company. Another critical element of the model is the quantity of sugars taken as a reference which corresponds to almost double that recommended by the WHO.

The other curious aspect is that most of the people invited to the Roman meeting proposed the Nutrinform Battery as an alternative to the Nutri-Score, posing as a champion of the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet means exercising, eating whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit and olive oil every day, cheese in moderation, preferring fish and chicken, rarely consuming red and processed meat, and very sparingly sweets). The Nutri-Score traffic light label directs consumers towards these foods by assigning them the green light (see the food pyramid in the graphic above). Why then are the politicians and ministers who joined today’s meeting against it? Perhaps they confuse the Mediterranean diet with typical Made in Italy products, which instead are penalized by the traffic light with an orange or red colour. We are talking about ham, cured meats, aged cheeses, desserts and other excellences of our food chain. Nobody wants to row against Made in Italy, but “traditional food” does not necessarily coincide with “nutritional quality”. A similar reasoning applies to products with protected designation of origin. These are brands that guarantee the origin in a specific geographical area, and the adoption of a production specification not a “nutritional quality”. Perhaps, however, the Nutrinform battery proposal is not a gross mistake, but a precise choice so as not to penalize Italian food companies.

Anyone who is really in favor of the Mediterranean diet cannot be against a traffic light label, a system that seeks to direct citizens towards correct food choices by facilitating the comparison between similar products. Precisely for this reason the Nutri-Score has a good chance of being adopted in Brussels. Achieving the same goal with the Nutrinform Battery is much more difficult and it doesn’t take long to figure it out.