The bad impact of traffic light labels

Italian food exports declining in the UK and France after the introduction of the controversial Nutri-score system. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most affected sectors

Traffic light labels and Nutri-score are seriously penalizing Made in Italy food exports after introduction in Great Britain and France. One of the most affected sectors is olive oil, according to latest survey by ISMEA. In the UK, imports of Italian oil in 2017 fell by 13.5% (from 13,307 to 11,515 tonnes). In addition to the unfavorable exchange rate due to the devaluation of the Pound, the problem is represented by the traffic light label with its characteristic three colours (adopted by 98% of supermarkets) which takes into account calories, fats, sugars and salt present in 100 grams of every product. If one of these components exceeds a certain concentration, it is indicated on the label with the red light signal. Just an invitation to “consume in moderation”, it is instead perceived by many customers as an advice not to buy at all.


The situation is similar in France, where the Nutri-score system classifies food products with 5 colors depending on their content of ‘bad’ ingredients, such as fat, or ‘good’ such as fiber. In France, the drop of Italian oil exports in 2017 was 18.6% (from 31,633 to 25,747 tonnes). “These parameters are misleading for consumers, as they tend to exclude healthy foods from the diet – explains David Granieri, president of Italian olive oil producers association UNAPROL. It’s really paradoxical, for example, how in this way some well-known carbonatedlight’ drinks get a green light signal whereas extra virgin olive oil – unanimously regarded as an elixir of long life and the symbol of the Mediterranean diet – is rejected. This system is indeed sponsored by major multinationals; that is why it generates wrong food patterns and distortions on the market. The EU needs to act decisively to defend public health, together with a production system that is based on quality”.

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