Four logos had been rolled out in 60 supermarkets across France for 10 weeks in a bid to determine which one was most effective in promoting healthy eating.
Health minister Marisol Touraine said in a statement: “The first question was whether or not simplified nutrition labelling systems were likely to lead to changes in consumers' purchasing behaviour. The answer is clearly yes. Three of the tested systems (Nutri-Colours, Nutri-score and SENS) were unambiguously positive in terms of the criterion chosen by the scientific committee.
“The combination of multiple approaches systematically explored (by categories of products, buyers, etc.) reveals a clear overall superiority for Nutri-Score [...]. This advantage of Nutri-score is even more marked when we observe specifically the behaviour of consumers who buy the cheapest products. [...] Nutri-Score therefore appears to be the most effective system for the whole study."
"We are taking a major step forward: for the first time, the value of a nutritional logo and the effectiveness of the NutriScore logo have been demonstrated," said Touraine.
Director of nutrition research at the University of Paris, Professor Serge Hercberg, who developed the 5-C NutriScore nutrition logo said: “The recognition of the superiority of the NutriScore logo in terms of the impact on consumers' purchasing behaviour, and the adoption of this logo by the Minister of Health, are a great victory for public health and a great victory for consumer information. [It will] enable them to easily compare the nutritional quality of foods at the time of their purchase,” he said in a statement in French to FoodNavigator.
“Manufacturers who have strongly demanded scientific demonstrations of the impact of this logo, which are available today on the basis of several studies, must now accept the rules of the game that they themselves demanded.”
FDE: 'Another potential layer of complexity'
ANIA, the association which represents the interests of the French food industry, said it noted Touraine’s announcement and maintained its commitment to the
consultation but was waiting for the experiment’s results to be officially presented “out of respect for the stakeholders”.
It had developed its own logo which was trialled alongside the NutriScore, a UK-style traffic light logo and one developed by the retail and distribution sector.
ANIA also drew attention to a recent opinion issued by the French food safety agency ANSES which concluded that nutrition logos did not seem adapted to tackling public health issues such as obesity.
Pan-European industry group FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) said
"We regret that today's announcement of a French national scheme adds yet another potential layer of complexity to what should be a pan-European approach to front of pack labelling. Any proliferation of national schemes be avoided, as this may hamper the free movement of goods in the EU single market; instead, discussion on a co-ordinated approach to front of pack nutrition labelling should take place at EU level, in close consultation and agreement with all stakeholders."
FDE called on the European Commission to assess whether the French recommendation complies with EU rules, particularly regulation on food information to consumers.
Food industry watchdog FoodWatch had thrown its weight behind the UK’s traffic light label. It welcomed policymakers’ initiative of bringing about greater transparency for consumers but added: “In order to be truly effective, such a device must be made compulsory for all manufacturers, and the logo must be affixed to the front of the packaging. This means putting the issue on the European agenda, because a single state cannot impose mandatory nutrition labelling,” it said.
Speaking to Le Parisien this week, Touraine also lamented the fact that EU rules on the single market mean France cannot make the logo mandatory.
“I cannot impose [this on industry], European rules do not allow it. I regret it but it is so. I am counting on the pressure of consumers, who want to be informed, to ensure industry will take this route. Some will play the game and it will have a snowball effect. We cannot talk about public health without being transparent. Today, everyone is talking about preventative [measures]; this is the future of health.”
Touraine’s next step will be to pass a decree in April allowing manufacturers to use the logo.
The logo has not received the unanimous backing of French lawmakers; agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll said it was “stigmatising” to certain foods.
According to French state figures, 15% of French people, or nearly 7 million adults, are obese.