France already has a traffic light food labelling system called Nutri Score which is used in supermarkets, but the EU proposal is to make it compulsory for all food sale points.
The problem for producers of some of France’s best-loved food products like cheese and sausage is that these tend to get poor health ratings based on their high fat and salt content – something the artisan producers say is unfair as their products are made to traditional recipes that cannot be changed.
“We have inherited an ancestral recipe that we cannot change, it’s impossible to make efforts on the nutritive value of Roquefort,” said general secretary of the general confederation of Roquefort Sébastien Vignette.
“Our cheese has qualities, it is a source of calcium, but the Nutri-Score doesn’t take that into account but counts fatty acids.”
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Producers in the southern region of Occitanie – which produces the prestigious porc noir de Bigorre (also known as L’Or gras or fatty gold) and much-loved French AOP cheeses Roquefort and Pélardon – are calling for an exemption for traditional produce.
Roquefort usually gets an E – the worst grade – on the Nutri Score system due to its high salt content while Pélardon usually gets a D.
But producers say their food – which contains no additives – is actually much better for your health than ultra-processed foods which score better on the system.
“Nutri-Score was created to encourage industrial producers to improve the nutritional value of their processed products, which is good for a chocolate bar, sodas or prepared food,” director of the regional Institut of food quality of Occitanie (Irqualim) Pierre Ginebre told Le Parisien.
“But the calculation is not suited for traditional food products. An organic fruit juice will get a C whereas a diet soda with sweeteners will get a B,” he said.
Other fatty food will also get a low score although they barely contain additives. For instance, a jambon porc noir de Bigorre is made with pork, salt, pepper and nothing else.
“It’s a recipe full of history, but that will be discredited with this labelling, which consumers rely on.”
Fearing that consumers might give the cold shoulder to these products because of their high amount of sugar or fat, the Irqualim has asked the European Commission to exempt them from this labelling.
The general confederation of Roquefort has also written to the candidates running for the regional elections in June to defend their cause and their traditional methods.
The Nutri-Score system was created by Santé Publique France, the French public health agency and implemented by the French government in March 2017.
It was created to help consumers make more transparent and healthier purchasing decisions and since January 1st 2021, this labelling is mandatory on every food advertisement.