On 1st August 2022, the Italian Competition Authority (“AGCM”) published its decision where it ruled that the NutriScore labelling must be discontinued in Italy because it deceives consumers. The authority further held that products meant for the French market, where the NutriScore is allowed, and which are distributed also on the Italian market may keep the NutriScore labelling provided that this is sufficiently substantiated.
Background and Reasoning
The AGCM initiated its investigation in 2021, calling into question the commercial practice of eight distinct companies using the NutriScore labelling on the Italian market. In its press release announcing the investigation, the AGCM stated that it believed consumers would erroneously perceive the NutriScore as an absolute assessment of the healthiness of a product, whilst the NutriScore does not take into account the overall needs of an individual, including their diet, food intake and lifestyle.
In its final decision, the authority has maintained this view. It considers that the NutriScore deceives consumer because it provides “an arbitrary classification of positive foods (fruit, vegetables, fibre and protein) and negative foods (salt, sugar and saturated fat)” but it fails to consider that, for example, proteins are compared without distinguishing their different source (vegetable or animal), fats are not distinguished into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, and fruit and vegetables are evaluated in the same way as proteins, factors that the authority deems crucial to correctly assess the ‘health impact’ of a food item.
In the AGCM’s view, the NutriScore label does not allow consumers to take informed choices but actually leads them “to believe that, regardless of one’s dietary needs, the green product is preferable over the others in the same product category” and encourages them to consume those green products without limits, on the erroneous assumption that those products cannot have harmful effects on their health.
Next Steps for Companies
The AGCM decision will have significant direct and indirect implications on food labelling. In practice, companies that still wish to commercialize their products in Italy with the NutriScore on pack, will be obliged to additionally inform consumers about the nutritional information and dietary context of certain food items by warning them on in-shop posters, shelf tags, their websites, or products’ labelling (even via QR codes) that the NutriScore system is not universally recognized by the scientific community, and that e.g. it does not take into account the needs and nutritional profile of the individual.
If you have any questions, please contact Giulia Romana Mele or Bart Van Vooren.