Effectiveness in doubt in France
France has tested the use of front-of-pack nutrition labelling schemes in four regions: Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Île-de-France (the Paris metropolitan area), Haute Normandie and Hauts-de-France. Sixty stores in the Casino, Carrefour Market and Simply Market chains took part in the trial, during which 2 million labels were attached to about 1,200 food products.
The trial, conducted over 10 weeks from last September, implemented three such nutrition labelling schemes:
On Feb 14 this year, the country’s Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) released an opinion on the effectiveness of such schemes. This assessed the potential impact of the schemes (also called nutrition information programmes) in reducing the incidence of certain diseases, through their effects on consumers’ food choices. In addition to the three systems on trial, the opinion also assessed the Nutri-couleurs and Health Star Rating systems.
According to ANSES, the reviewed systems indiscriminately and imprecisely incorporate the specific needs of different population groups, without taking into account all of the diet-related variables that affect public health issues. The opinion also states that there is insufficient evidence to observe the effects of front-of-pack nutrition labelling schemes on consumer choices.
It recognises that contradictory effects may even occur, including creating a negative bias in consumers that induces inappropriate purchasing behaviour. The opinion concludes that front-of-pack nutritional labelling schemes “appear to have little relevance at the nutritional level”.