France is to change how it calculates the Nutri-score food ranking system in a bid to make it easier for people to choose healthier food.
Nutri-score gives food and drink items a score from A to E - A being the most healthy and E the least - based on their key ingredients, such as sugar, salt and fibre.
However, it is not mandatory.
The new algorithm is set to come into force by the end of this year, France’s public health agency announced on Monday (April 24).
Food manufacturers will then have two years to change their packaging in line with the new rules.
In particular, the changes will include several key shifts when it comes to drinks:
Making the ranking more coherent across drinks. Milk, dairy, and vegetable drinks will be included in the algorithm, with skimmed and semi-skimmed milk appearing in the more-healthy ranks to differentiate them from sweetened milk drinks.
Improving the labelling of the nutritional contents of drinks, including their sugar content
Keeping water in the A category.
Ensuring fruit juices, nectars, and smoothies are all ranked according to a similar algorithm to ensure uniform, logical ratings.
Food changes will include:
Improve the differentiation between food when it comes to salt and sugar content
Improvement in the differentiation between food rich in fibre versus highly-processed items
A healthier classification in fatty fish, which contains healthy Omega 3s
A better classification of oils lower in saturated fat
A better classification of poultry when compared to red meat
Launched in 2017, the Nutri-score ranking system is used across many European countries, including France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain.
Different countries can currently add their own elements to the algorithm calculation, but the new system is set to standardise the method across all countries by the end of 2023.
Why this new change?
The new system comes after the latest Comité scientifique report recommended changes in the way the algorithm is calculated, in line with major public health norms.
In a joint statement, health authorities from countries including France and Germany said: “This new algorithm will strengthen the effectiveness of the Nutri-Score to classify food and drink in coherence with food recommendation principles of European countries.”
The new algorithm aims to give consumers more insight into the health benefits (or not) of food and drink for sale in shops.
The colour system (which goes from green to red) will remain the same, but the way the ranking is worked out will change.
Despite being used in many major European countries, the system is not European Union-wide. This is most notable in Italy, where it was rejected due to strong lobbying from farming and food groups, who feared it could harm their interests.
Food manufacturers in France, particularly cheesemakers, have also opposed some elements of the system. In November 2022, The Connexion spoke to the Nurtri-score founder to find out more about why some foods are unexpectedly ranked higher than others.
Dr Serge Hercberg explained, for example, that chips could be considered healthy, as they “come from potatoes and are low in salt and sugar”, while “Roquefort is loaded in salt, saturated fat and calories”.
He said that it was often the cooking style and sauces that are added to foods such as chips that could have a detrimental effect on the food’s nutritional value, not the chips themselves.
Dr Hercberg advised consumers to look for products containing fruits, vegetables and fibre, which are low in salt, sugar, and saturated fats when trying to buy healthier foods.