Tuesday, May 24

Presidential 2022. The Nutri-Score per portion wanted by Pécresse is “absurd” according to the creator of the logo

Valérie Pécresse loves cheese. So much so that she spoke out on Monday in favor of a Nutri-score “per portion” at the microphone of Europe 1. By modifying this labeling deployed since 2017 in France, she wants to avoid “a disincentive” and support cheese producers, whose products often receive a poor nutritional rating. But for Serge Hercberg, the scientist behind the Nutri-score, this measure would have “strictly no meaning”.

The Nutri-Score in brief

The Nutri-score is a logo affixed to packaging and which informs about the nutritional quality of products. The more a product’s note tends towards green and the letter “A”, the more it is rich in recommended nutrients (fiber, protein, fruit, vegetables, etc.). Conversely, products that contain a lot of saturated fatty acids, sugar and salt are classified as “D” or “E” and their Nutri-score tends towards red.

This labeling, already adopted in several countries of the European Union and acclaimed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Circ), aims to fight against obesity and overweight, and therefore against diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, etc. How? ‘Or’ What ? “By helping the consumer to choose the product that will have the best nutritional quality,” explains Serge Hercberg, the researcher behind the Nutri-score.

An unfair indicator?

To allow consumers to compare similar products, the Nutri-score is obtained from the nutritional compositions per 100 g of product. And this is precisely what displeases the candidate of the Republicans, for whom the cheeses are penalized by a bad note because of this method of calculation. This leads, according to her, “a disincentive to eat it”.

“Apart from me, there are very few people who eat 100 g of cheese”, argues the president of the Ile-de-France Region. An argument that is not new. For several months, producers from Roquefort, Rocamadour and even Maroilles have been stepping up to denounce a “punitive approach” and defend their territorial roots. Some even ask to be exempted from the Nutri-score.

According to Valérie Pécresse, modifying the way the Nutri-Score is calculated, by no longer retaining the composition per 100 g but per portion, would be more relevant. “It’s a whole industry,” says Othman Nasrou, one of his spokespersons. But for Serge Hercberg, his proposal “is totally absurd and has no scientific basis”.

An “impossible” comparison by portion

The Professor Emeritus of Nutrition at Sorbonne-Paris-Nord University points out that the whole point of Nutri-score lies in its ability to easily distinguish equivalent products, but which do not have the same nutritional properties. “To compare them, they must therefore have a common denominator,” explains the scientist. However, according to him, it is “impossible to set standardized portions”.

Why ? Because the recommended portions “depend on the age, sex or even the sedentary or active nature of the consumer”. This is one of the reasons why the criterion “per 100 g” was preferred to the criterion “per serving” when designing the Nutri-score.

Serge Hercberg also mentions “the difficulty for the consumer to estimate a portion when the product is not sold by portion”. In other words, for a Nutri-score per portion to be of interest, you would have to weigh your piece of cheese or cold cuts to check that it corresponds to the recommended portion.

An artificially good rating

Above all, according to the researcher, such a system would open the way to potential manipulations: “As the portions cannot be standardized, they are set by the manufacturers themselves, who tend to set them at very low levels for ” make the colors pale”: red becomes orange and orange becomes yellow”.

In a blog post, the professor of nutritional epidemiology and several of his colleagues take the example of cereals, the manufacturers of which often suggest “a portion size of 30 g whereas the majority of adolescents, for example, consume portions of 60 or 80 g, see more “. This has “the consequence of artificially reducing the nutrient “contributions” of breakfast cereals considered to be unfavorable from a nutritional point of view because they are rich in sugars”. A technique that “misleads the consumer,” says Serge Hercberg.

For him, it is logical that cheeses do not have a good Nutri-score, since they are “fatty, salty and caloric” products. Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat it: “In the official recommendations, it is advisable to eat cheese, but in small quantities and not too often. That’s what the Nutri-score says,” says Serge Hercberg.

He regrets that Valérie Pécresse did not “seek the opinion of scientists before launching a proposal which appears to be a defense of economic interests at the expense of public health and consumer information”. Does candidate LR advocate this measure for “purely electoral reasons”, as the father of Nutri-score asserts? According to Othman Nasrou, the “perverse effects” of the current labeling “have economic repercussions which are not anecdotal”.

But he assures us: Valérie Pécresse’s proposal “does not oppose public health and economic imperative”. The spokesperson “hears the reservations” of Nutri-Score defenders. He advocates “consultation” and admits that it will be necessary to find “safeguards” so as not to distort the indicator.


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