Environmental concern and awareness linked to the expected population growth, and with it the increase in demand for food and the need to ensure the sustainability of resources through more efficient processes has led to a change in the consumption trends.
Consumers, increasingly concerned about health and the need to look for more natural foods, are leaning towards diets with less meat consumption, and even veggie diets (vegan, flexitarian and vegetarian), which ultimately translates into an increase in the search for alternative plant-based proteins and the generation of new plant-based foods.
Spain has 5.1 million veggies, rising from 8% in 2017 to 13% in 2021, representing a 34% growth in the veggie population in just 4 years. Moreover, a 56% of consumers indicate that they have bought at least one veggie brand simply out of curiosity due to the increase in the number of these products.
It is becoming increasingly common to find alternative products made from plant-based proteins on the shelves. Plant-based products range from plant-based alternatives to milk, the well-known plant-based drinks, which top the list of the most popular products, followed by meat analogues, but also alternatives to eggs, cheese, fish and their respective by-products.
To better understand how these products are obtained, let´s take a look at the most commonly used raw materials today, which include insects, algae, microproteins, vegetable proteins (legumes and cereals), cultured meat, which can be subjected to different processes such as fermentation, extrusion or 3D printing and which are intended to replace animal.
More extended and accepted raw materials are vegetable proteins, coming from legumes and/or cereals. With these vegetable proteins alternatives, the already known alternatives to meat products are made, such as meat analogs, meat substitutes, meat imitators or meat-without meat. All these terms makes reference to food products with sensorial characteristics, taste, texture, appearance and nutritional value similar to traditional meat products.
The most widely used and accepted raw materials are vegetable proteins from legumes and/or cereals. These vegetable proteins are used to produce the well-known alternatives to meat or meat-free meat products. All these terms refer to food products with sensory characteristics, taste, texture, appearance and nutritional value similar to those of traditional meat products.
Despite the increasing supply of meat analogues, there are still limitations to their widespread use, the main one being related to sensory properties. To ensure the success of these products, the use of plant-based proteins is not enough, as consumers are not willing to sacrifice the sensory experience. This is why the food industry is constantly working to improve the production of these products, developing and optimising technologies and processes in favour of high organoleptic and nutritional qualities. In this sense, extrusion technology for obtaining alternative protein structures to meat is one of the technological lines with the greatest potential.
Extrusion is a very versatile technology based on the application of high temperature and short times, where ingredients are continuously treated and forced through a matrix that forms and texturises them, producing several simultaneous changes in the structure and chemical composition of the ingredients through the application of thermal and mechanical energy, allowing a wide range of products to be obtained.
To learn a little more about this process and how it acts on vegetable proteins, it is necessary to differentiate the two types of routes that extrusion technology offers to obtain meat analogues. On the one hand, high moisture extrusion (also known as HME, high moisture extrusion), makes it possible to obtain non-expanded fibrous products that imitate the texture and mouthfeel of meat products. Therefore, they will be the protein base for the production of a meat analogue. On the other hand, dry extrusion produces the so-called textured vegetable protein (TVP), which is characterised by its expansion and requires subsequent hydration prior to use.
Since high-moisture extrusion creates a product with a meat-like structure, let’s see what actually happens to vegetable proteins during this process called texturisation:
It could be explained as a two-stage process; firstly, the protein is in its native state, with a complex structure and without access to its functionality. When heat and shear forces are applied during cooking, a denaturation of the protein takes place, losing its native structure and leaving the binding sites for new bonds accessible, which facilitates that in the second cooling stage, the protein reorganises itself by forming new bonds, giving rise to a product of a fibrous nature.
The greatest challenge of these processes is at the innovation in the use of extrusion-texturization technology combined with different blends of vegetable proteins to obtain improved textures.
This technology involves a double challenge: on the one hand, the choice of raw materials is a key parameter, being necessary to choose the appropiate vegetable protein source capable of providing the best characteristics to the final product with a good behaviour during processing and, on the other hand, to achieve and optimise the process conditions by adjusting the variables of each of the parameters to achieve the desired texture. Therefore, to achieve a better texture in mthe following must be taken into account: the choice of raw materials, the protein source, the protein content-isolate, concentrate, flour and the choice of conditions for the process parameters.
In short, obtaining products similar to those of animal origin by incorporating alternative protein sources such as cereals or legumes, and even algae, insects or microproteins, is one of the challenges facing the food industry. Although extrusion technology allows new plant-based products to be obtained, it is necessary to continue developing this technology in order to achieve the “perfect” analogue that meets all the requirements in terms of texture, taste and nutritional properties.
At CARTIF we work to integrate and optimise the texturization process with different ingredients and their mixtures, in order to obtain meat analogues with the best properties. An example of this, is the Meating Plants projects where we research the use of legume proteins to improve the quality of meat analogues.
I´ m on my way to work and I hear an ad for a soft drink on the radio; during my break I see that my favourite singer encourages me to try it on social netwroks, he tells me it´ s great!; in the afternoon I go to the supermarket and I find a promotion of that soft drink which I can try it for free and there is also a 3X2 promotion; at night I´ m watching a series with my family and I see how the main character drinks that same soft drink with the brand clearly visible and shows an incredible satisfaction after drinking it… where is the limit between advertising and influence?
I am an adult with critical sense who can make the decision to consume a product or not, but… what about a child? Can we consider that children are free to make healthy choices taking into account all the advertising environment that surrounds us?
In Spain, 40.6% of children between 6 and 9 years of age suffer from overweight and obesity1, alarming figures similar to those of other countries such as United States or Mexico. The prevalence of childhood obesity in Spain is among the highest in Europe according to the WHO.
Today´ s lifestyle has changed drastically in recent decades and is believed to be responsible for the increase in overweight and obesity in all age groups and especially in childhood: children now consume more fast food and sugary drinks, eat away from home more often and spend less time eating as a family than previous generations. In addition, processed foods are more accessible than ever and are available in larger portions. Moreover, television and Internet use have led to a more inactive and sedentary lifestyle, as well as greater exposure to the marketing of products high in fat, sugar and/or salt (known as HFSS).
It is clear that to reverse this high prevalence of overweight and obesity in children, there is no single solution but it must be a set of actions aimed at reducing sedentary lifestyles and increasing energy expenditure in addition to improving consumption decisions towards healthier products, but, I ask again the question from before, can we expect a child to make healthy consumption decisions when in their daily life they have so many impacts of unhealthy products specifically aimed at children? According to a study by the OCU (Consumers and Users Organization), nine out of ten food advertisements aimed at children are for products with an unhealthy nutritional profile2 : cookies, breakfast cereals, industrial pastries, chocolates, enregy drinks. And many of them are advertised by influential characters or cartoons, accompanied by promotional gifts or collectible stickers that encourage repeat purchases and capture the interest of children, or endorsed by certain health associations.
In terms of advertising, there is some consensus3 that until the age of five, children are incapable of perceiving the differences betweent programming and advertisements, or that they do not begin to identify a persuasive interest in advertising until they are about eight years old. Not even after the age of eight it is guaranteed that minors will be able to identify messages as biased, since, as adults know, they tend to emphasize the positive aspects and ignore the negative aspects of the product.
In Spain, the PAOS Code was signed in 2005 with the aim of establishing a set of rules to regulate advertising and promotional activities aimed at children and to guide companies to comply with it. However, reality shows that children continue to be the target of many unhealthy food advertising and the figures for overweight and obesity continue to be alarming.
For this reason, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs intends to approve a Royal Decree regulating the broadcasting of unhealthy food and beverage advertising when it is aimed at children and adolescents up to 16 years of age.
The regulation that will start to be applied in this 2022 year will affect five categories of products that will not be allowed to advertise to children under 16 regardless of the nutrient content: chocolate and sugar confectionery products, energy bars and sweet toppings and desserts; pastry and biscuit products; juices; energy drinks and ice creams. For the rest of the product categories, a limit of nutrient content per 100 grams is established. In this case, they may be advertised as long as total and saturated fats, total and added sugar and salt levels remain below the limits established for each product. These limits correspond to the nutritional profiles established by the World Health Organization.
Advertising on television, radio, cinema and internet, social networks, websites or mobile apps will be regulated and there will be limitations on advertising in print media. There will be reinforced protection schedules in generalist television channels set from Monday to Friday, between 08:00 and 09:00 in the morning and from 17:00 to 20:00 hours in the afternoon, and on Saturdays and Sundays, between 09:00 and 12:00 hours, while the prohibition in children´ s television channels will be permanent.
The intention of Royal Decree is in line with the recommendations of the European Commission in its Action Plan against Childhood Obesity and which is already applied in countries such as Norway, Portugal or the United Kingdom. In 2017, the European Commission published a report on the exposure of children to HFSS food advertising and marketing4. Some of the conclusions of this study were:
64% of food and beverage advertisements for children under 18 were for HFSS products.
A child under the age of 12 may be exposed to a total of 732 HFSS ads in a month.
80% of online HFSS ads are advertised on YouTube and 20% on traditional web pages
The most promoted category is sweet snacks.
Children see approximately 10 times more HFSS ads than health food ads in Romania, 6 times more in Sweden and 3.5 times more in Lithuania and Italy.
At the food industry level, there are also initiatives to adapt and improve this situation. This is the case of the EU Pledge initiative that promotes among its members the commitment, by January 1, 2022, in relation to the restrictions on the marketing of HFSS products, either not to advertise any food and beverage products aimed at children under 13 years of age, or only to advertise products that meet the EU Pledge nutritional criteria. The EU Pledge is currently adhered to by 23 companies that account for 80% of advertising expenditure in the EU.
The need for a regulation that regulates the advertising and promotion of unhealthy foods through all media that reach the child population is a reality. It is not only a matter of placing limits on food choices that can lead to health damage, but also of limiting the influence, incitement or suggestion of products in an unfair way, hiding their harmful condition, especially when the consumer cannot reasonably identify it.
The food industry also has a fundamental role in this task, both at the level of advertising regulation, as well as in the reformulation of existing products and in the research of other healthy and attractive options for children. From CARTIF, we continuosly collaborate with the food industry for this purpose,as in the projects PROBIOMIC (Design of new cereal products with probiotics adapted to optimal child nutrition through omic technologies) or TOLERA (Development of more effective and safer ingredients and foods, aimed at people with food allergies and intolerances), among others.
For some time now, experts and major international organisations have been talking about the onset of a major global food crisis. A crisis that would put more than 265 million people at risk of famine, double the pre-pandemic estimates by COVID-19 for 2020.
In reality, the reason and origin of this crisis isn´ t the lack of food. In fact, the statistical data shows that 2020 has been a year of abundant harvests in general at a global level. But the food crisis is coming it is because of the opposite. Is because there ir a surplus of food for a agrifood market with a broken demand because of the unemployment increase, because of the protectionism of the advanced economies and because of the colapse of the supply chain.
This crisis would oblige to the most disadvantaged to choose between protect their health or protect their livelihoods. The pandemia produced by the virus COVID-19 has caused a economic crisis that has led into a huge damage to the availability of food at a global level. On one side, the offer has broken, the farmers, the mainly distributors of perishable products (fruit and vegetables) are decreasing their production as its main clients (hotels, restaurants, schools, airports) have had to reduce, or even stop, their operations. This is causing surplus production that ruin the producers because they don´ t find their habitual buyers. If we put as an example the parishables products, what has occur is that the logistic problem have been stronger. Why? Because ther isn´ t only the mobility, but also there is the problem that is perishable. So if there is a delay in their transports exists a problem. For example, the asparagus. Most part of the asparagus are exported by plane and the cost of the plane is shared between passengers and load. As there isn´´ t passengers the cost of the load is so high, then it is no longer economically. The same occurs, for example, with fish. We also have the milk producers, who are being forced to pour thousand of litres of fresh milk in the last weeks, unable of placing the product. In India, huge tomato and banana crops have been wasted as a result of government restrictions on movement that have made it impossible to get produce to local markets by march 2020. Therefore the dilemma is how we can ensure that in 2022 the same amounts of produce, the same crops, will be planted as in 2020 or 2021, so that there is security of food availability for the coming years. It is difficult to predict how much in the present situation. If we don´ t help producers at this moment, they are not going to have liquidity to plant their next crops and then we will be under a huge problem of food shortage.
By the other side, there are the consumers. The houses experiencing economic difficulties and that are in an unemployment situation are running out of money. Including when the products are available in local markets. This phenomena in the developing countries it is worse, because, in addition to the citizens, the ones that are running out of money are the importers. Africa has received a huge economic shock because most countries are exporters of oil, much countries are exporters of cotton, as Mali, where all the contracts are being cancelled, are exporters of commodities of metal that also are fallen, or of coffee as Ethiopia that also falls or doesn´ t have Europe´ s capacity to be able to inject 3 trillion euros in the economy to revive it.
Countries as Argelia, Angola, Ecuator, Nigeria or Arabia Saudí depends on the incomes of oil exports to help to pay the imports and to finance the food subsidies for the most poor, however, with the economic contraction generated by the COVID the global demand of oil has collapsed and the crude oil barrel prices has fallen even going below zero for the first time in history.
To this must be added the uncertainty about the possible basic food price increase such as wheat and rice that, despite of being downward, they have experimented an increase and which analysts blame mainly on stockpiling, speculation and protectionism in the main producer countries and the richest importers. Between march and april of 2020, various of the main exporter countries of wheat such as Rusia, Ukraine or Kazajistan imposed quotas and suspensions to their exportations of rice, Turkia restricted its exports of lemons , Thailand of hen eggs and Serbia of sunflower seeds. Meanwhile, other countries where accumulating food with accelerated importations, such as Egypt, the major importer of wheat in the world, that buy huge quantities of french and russian grain to storage supplies for 8 months.
A chaining of suspensions and oversupply that took many back to the food price crisis of 2008. If we compare with the crisis of 2007-2008, then we had 33 countries putting restrictions and represented the 28% of the global exportations. Nowadays, what we have? We start with 16 countries that put restrictions to the exportations and today there are onlly 11. When they were 16 we were talking about around 6.5% of the share of the global exportations, now with 11 we are talking about the 2.5%, that is to said, it is nothing, the problem isn´ t there. In availability isn´ t. The dramatic situation is in the access. In Nigeria, one of the biggest rice importers and wheat of the world and at the same time one of the main exporters of oil, more and more supermarkets are having to close down because of the broken offer and demand. A disturbing scenario, which has already started to translate into protests, not only in Nigeria, but also in Kenia, Bangladesh, Honduras, SouthAfrica, and that many fear it will spread to the developed economies where the increase of prices could aggravate the inequality between rich and poors.
And although with the relaxation of the control measures of the pandemia also have been relating some of the restrictions of the exporter countries, much poor countries will have to choose between protecting their health or protecting their livelihoods.
No doubt about it, the pandemia has caused a dramatic loss of human lifes in the hole world and it presents an unprecedented challenge with deep social and economic consequences, that includes commit the food security and the nutrition. The food sustainability is maybe one of the most sensible and important points of the 2030 development sustainable agenda published by the ONU. A world problematic to which we have not given the importance it deserves.
Nevertheless, and with all that, the economists defend the increase, and yes, lots of countries need to grow, the issue maybe is which ones? In America they don´ t need more lawyers, in Europe, too many bureaucrats in Brussels. But the planet has a supply problem. In five years there will be shortage of water and food, in that way it is announced by the scientific expert Vaclav Smil. We should grow in the correct direction.
There isn´ t growth without risk. Each advance has a risk to be considered. Without data, we can´ t take decisiones. But even having the best numbers it should be consider the unpredictable, the no numeric aspect. It is easy to reduce the Co2 emissions in Denmark. But Nigeria today lives as the daneses in 1850, what they can be asked to reduce?
We are in a global economy , but it doesn´ t exist a global solution equal to all. The cost of reducing emissions it shouldn´ t be propotional, if not a la carte. It is not the same growing for surviving that for expanding the economy. An example is India. It is near to go beyonf China as the country with more population in the world (the ONU expects it by 2027), however, it consumes one third less of energy. It can not be measured the economy apart from the population. The dinamism is fundamental for maintaining it alive. Everybody knows that USA is the most dynamic economy in the world. China it could be bigger, but there are 1412 million of chinese and only 331 million of americans.
What is then the progress? Having the child population vaccinated, nourished, with a life expectancy that goes from the 40 to the 80 years and with an education and health guaranteed by the state? Spain is at the top of the life expectancy, together with Japan, despite nowadays Spain eats lots of meat. How much is a lot? During 1940 they were ate 8kg of meat per capita, now in 2021 near 200kg. Human being is omnivore. The key is in the “omni” that means “all”. It implies variety and not exceding with nothing. Without the synthesis of fertilizers there will be generalized hunger- without nitrogen plants will grow less and there will be for all. Fertilizers are not only use for increasing fortunes, also feeds global population. Global public health it isn´ t impossible, it´ s a challenge. Crops can be better planified and improved the fertilizers. Cows can eat alfalfa. We do not. But we don´ t eat only cows, we have to feed them. Almost everything in this planet is question of balance.
The country with most overweight is Arabia Saudí, with more than 70% of the population. A 12% of the global population is underfeed and a 75% overfeed. Obesity epidemic has more relation with poverty or with cars? The answer is multifactorial: genetic order, diet helps and the exercise or the activity compensates. Frugality is education? What is little? There is people that thinks that three cars are not very and others consider that one it´ s a lot. Education is not everything. High education only has one result that is the mayor probability of winning more money. But this data is not infallible, we just have to see the amount of graduates that are in Spain, however, they have seem forced to emigrate.
The world is a very complex machine. Where a risk ends, another starts. We just have to think in the pandemia. The world is a risk place where we should make decisions, where big decissions matters and they have an effect.
The theme that the World Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has given to the World Food Day of this year 2021 is “Our actions are our future”.
And so it is, like everything in life, each step and each action that we undertake, determines our future. We,all of us, are an active and responsible part of a complex, living and moldable system called food system.
FAO defines food systems as a set of actors and the relationship of the set of activities established between all of them through the different interrelationships that make possible the production, transformation, distribution and consumption of the food.
The elements that make up food systems are multiple and integrate both aspects of the production, storage, processing, packaging and logistics as well as issues related to quality, nutritional, safety and price related aspects, even issues such as information and behavior of the consumers. Given all these factors- and many others!- and their interrelationship, it is not unreasonable to think that food systems are of crucial importance to many of the challenges and goals we must address globally, inlcuding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among these objectives, and particularly two of them, are those aimed at achieving “Zero Hunger” (SDG2) and “End Poverty” (SDG1) on which we must place special emphasis today.
Most of the current food systems are not capable of adapting, anticipating or being resilient to stressful situations or of supplying the present needs, in some cases, or to anticipate the needs of a growing population.
There is a clear need to transition to more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems
A sustainable food system integrates varied and sufficient, nutritious and safe food with a fair price for all, where there are no forms of malnutrition and no hungry. Policies and strategies are necessary, but also our personal contribution as active members of the system. Every time we choose foods, we make mutiple decisions and do our part towards our healthy, but also, more sustainable diet, which contributes to the restoration of natural resources. Towards an equitable trade, leading the way towards the eradication of poverty and malnutrition, thus protecting human rights.
On World Food Day, every October 16 since 1979,the collective action of a large number of countries is promoted to carry out events, communication and dissemination activities with the aim of promoting the need to eradicate hunger and guarantee healthy diets for all the members of this planet.
We must address challenges related to world population growth, climate change, diet-related diseases, depletion of natural resources and associated specific situations such as pandemics or natural disasters.
Each October 16 since 42 years ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations promotes the celebration of World Food Day.In this case under the slogan “OUR ACTIONS ARE OUR FUTURE”
The European Union proposed to address the challenge of food security and nutrition through research and development policies aimed at guaranteeing the future of our food systems so that they turn into more sustainable, resilient,responsible, inclusive, diverse and competitive within the FOOD 2030 strategy and it is intended to provide solutions to four major general priorities of the food systems:
NUTRITION: ensuring healthy and sustainable diets.
CLIMATE: achieve climate-smart and sustainable food systems that adapt the climate change.
CIRCULARITY: reducing the use of resources and improving the efficiency of food systems, including zero food waste.
INNOVATION: fostering sustainable and accessible food sharing for all communities, cities and rural areas, developing data-driven food and nutrition systems that meet societal needs.
At CARTIF we work in different pathways of intervention that allow us to advance in this direction, such as the shift to more sustainable and healthy diets, the identification and use of new sources of protein, reduction of food waste, food security or urban food systems.
In this sense, FUSILLI project (Fostering the Urban Food System transformation through Innovative Living Labs Implementation, funded by the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme) general aim is achieving an integrated and safe transition towards food systems in pan-European cities and their peri-urban areas by creating a sustainable urban food plan, with environmental, social and economic aspects that integrates actions in the four pillars of the FOOD 2030 strategy.
Yes, we hold the future of food in our hands. Each step that each of us takes in the right direction ensures food and nutrition for healthy and sustainable diets while maintaining the environment, our health, equity and social inclusion, and the economy. Be part of the change that you want to see.
Just as fingerprints are used to identify people, the chemical profile or “chemical fingerprint” of food is useful in the agri-food sector, because it provides information about the authenticity of food. The study of the digital chemical fingerprint allows, among other aspects, differentiate foods of the same type but produced in different regions (denomination of origin), to distinguish between species, to verify the veracity of its components, to determinate the presence of adulterants and contaminants, to check the preparation or processing method used, among ohter characteristics.
The development of this type of analytic methodology is being especially demanded to combat food fraud, an issue that increasingly worries consumers, the food industry and the adminsitration. Although EU Food Fraud Network was founded in 2013 with the main objective to combat the food fraud in the food sector, both in Spain and in the global market of the European Union, the number of notifications related with fraudulent actions is increasing throughout of the agri-food chain. In 2018, food fraud caused a global cost in the food industry of around 30.000 million euros and, only in Spain, the food fraud´s notifications increased from 234 in 2018 to 292 in 2019. Some of the sectors such as olive oil, meat industry or the winegrowing were the most affected.
Fraudulent actions along the agri-food chain can be very diverse and can affect the quality, the purity, the conservation way or the identity of the food. According to this, in 2014 the GFSI (Global Safety Initiative) defined the food fraud as a collective term that encompasses the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, adulteration or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, labeling, information about the product or false and misleading declarations about a product to obtain economic benefits could can affect the customer´s health.
In this way, since the Food Area of CARTIF are progressed with the development of technical analytics to detect the multiple “biomarkers” or to obtain the “chemical digital fingerprint” which allows us to prove the authenticity about the food and detected frauds although can be masked. In general, some of the analytic technologies used with this reason as gas chromatogrpahy coupled or mass spectrometry (GC-MS(, or the ion mobility spectrometry (GC-IMS), the ñiquid chromatography with mass spectrometry as a dectector (LC-MS) or infrared spectroscopy are worked in laboratories several years; however, traditionally their applications has been guided to the targeted of some composed. Now adays, exist stark trends to the development of methods more strong and ambitious (not targeted) which lets the simultaneous detection of the high possible quality of their composed. The chemical facts getting off ths way, by being traded according the applications of mathematical or statistics (chemometrics) models can contribute relevant information about the identity of the food.
The ultimate aim of these analytical methodologies is to be able to provide, in the security food field, a useful, fast and relatively simple stool which can help to minimize food fraud and avoid its possible consequences, both from the point of view of the health consumers, as the economic losses that they may represent to the food industry.
NutriScore, is a nutritional traffic light intended to help consumers make healthier buying decisions by providing information on nutritional quality at a glance. It does this by using a algorithm that gives a lower (healthier) score for protein, fibre, fruit, nuts and vegetables and a higher (less healthy) score for kilocalories, saturated fat, total sugars and salt. Based on this score, the product is given a letter with the corresponding colour code, from the healthiest which would be green (letter A) to the least healthful which would be indicated by the colour red (letter E).
But not everything is perfect in the world of the colourful algorithm. Since its birth in France (2017), it has been the subject of numerous criticisms arguing that the NutriScore not only fails to meet the objectives for which it was created but is even misleading for consumers. As expected, we are facing a divided Europe. On the one hand, the governments of France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany have adopted the Nutriscore label on a voluntary basis. However, Italy considers that such labelling poses a risk to products “made in Italy” and to the Mediterranean diet, and has even presented to the Commission an alternative to NutriScore called NutrInform (which has also been widely criticised). Major food multinationals such as Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Danone have already implemented NutriScore in their own brand lines and some of the largest retail chains such as Carrefour, Erosky, Aldi and Lidl have also included NutriScore in their own brand products.
The pro-NutriScore group argues that it is an easily interpreted tool that can encourage healthy food choices and motivate industry to reformulate its products. By contrast, another group sees the NutriScore as an unfair system, which may discriminate against certain categories of food, as it does not include comprehensive nutrient information and is not based on the reference intakes of the average consumer, leading to an unbalanced diet.
The NutriScore also fails to convince the European Commission. In fact, in its Farm to Fork strategy published in March 2020, the Commission faces the challenge of implementing a single mandatory labelling system across the EU, by the last quarter of 2022, but has so far not committed itself to the NutriScore. In fact, it has proposed to launch an impact study on the different types of front of pack labelling.
Despite all this variety of opinions, today the NutriScore is one of the most widely accepted front labels in Europe and the one chosen by Spain for implementation during the first quarter of 2021.
In this situation we must not forget that the most important thing is to inform (not influence) the consumer. This situation is reminding me of what happened with Regulation 1924/2006 whose initial objective was also very worthy, as it was published to protect consumers on nutrition and health claims on food. That was a Regulation under strong pressure from the food industry which did not take the consumer into account. In fact, to this day, consumers are still not aware of the difference between a “fat-free”, “low-fat” or “reduced-fat” product, to name just one example. It was a regulation made “for” and “by” the food industry and which in my opinion has not guaranteed consumer protection either. At the very least, the NutriScore would expose a regulation that is allowing a fried roll filled with vitamin D enriched cream to claim that it “contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system”. However, the NutriScore is also being used as a marketing tool by the food industry, and the algorithm has even been modified to improve the rating of certain products.
One of the main criticisms of NutriScore is that products with low nutritional value may give the impression of being healthy after reformulation. In my opinion, the NutriScore would actually be continuing a situation that Regulation 1924/2006 has not been able to resolve. We should focus on health policies by reformulating those products with too much salt, saturated fat and sugar so that consumers can actually make healthier choices.
We already know that NutriScore is not perfect, in fact no labelling system will ever be perfect in isolation. In parallel, complementary nutrition information systems will need to be put in place. Nutrition education will of course be essential for any labelling system to be effective, but here the food industry really needs to lose its fear of being more transparent. Marketing departments must understand that including “sodium palmitate” (Latin name) or “elaeis guineensis” (name of the plant) as an ingredient instead of “palm oil” is not transparent and can confuse even a PhD in nutrition.
In the food area of CARTIF during 2021 we are preparing business initiatives related to the improvement of the nutritional profile of certain foods and actions aimed at improving nutritional labelling so that consumers can make more informed choices.
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