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Romania’s Consumer Protection Authority Bans Nutri-Score Labels

Our National Consumer Protection Authority (ANPC) has been complaining about Nutri-Score labels for the past couple of years, but now they went one step, or more exactly one leap, further and actually banned them! A law that would have made such labels mandatory was submitted earlier this year, but in June it was rejected by the Senate, so the labels remained optional, yet an increasing number of products were displaying them, starting with the store brands of chains such as Carrefour, Mega Image or Auchan and continuing with various others, some local producers stating that the retail chains had demanded it, so they had only recently paid for the required testing and ordered labels or packaging that included the score, only to now be banned from using them. And this happened on short notice too, the deadline by which all such products must be removed from sale being November 1!
True, the ANPC had apparently communicated the decision through official channels around the middle of September, but that is still short notice, especially when you take into account the fact that decisions requiring additional information tend to come into effect after much longer “transition” periods, even though adding information is both beneficial to customers and easier to do without destroying products or changing packaging, since it can temporarily be done by sticking a piece of paper on the existing packaging. Plus that for the general public the news only actually broke this Monday, since as of Tuesday some retailers were going to refuse to sell such products unless those labels were removed or at least covered, one producer saying that they resorted to using markers to cover that part of the labels, one by one.
The president of the ANPC seems particularly determined to block this sort of labeling, having once again responded to the requests for comments with criticisms that were, shall we say, unprofessionally angry. If we are to take the general ideas, his complaints refer to the fact that the system can lead to discrimination at the shelf, average consumers, in his words, not being sufficiently knowledgeable to make the correct decisions based on food labeling, that it’s incomplete and generic, not taking all of a product’s nutritional details or local or individual dietary requirements or preferences into account, but at the same time that it’s not standardized, which seems to contradict his previous point. But he has repeatedly mentioned specific issues, such as certain traditional foods, which are particularly greasy, being rated D or E, or that the same happens for meat in general but that adding some vegetables improves the rating, or that cheese made by Romanian producers is rated D or E and placed at the shelf alongside imported cheese without this label, which makes it seem that he’s speaking for certain interest groups.
But I’m writing this now because those replies weren’t only sent to the press, but apparently even to regular people, because I also sent an e-mail to the ANPC to complain about the decision and he apparently replied personally. So I mentioned that more and easier to see information is always desirable, that the fact that average consumers aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable to decide means that there’s a need for campaigns to educate them, not that information must be hidden even from those who would know how to use it, that the Reference Intake that’s also on many labels is also completely generic, and sometimes also includes values for “one serving” alongside those for 100 grams or milliliters, and the serving sizes that are used are too small to be realistic, which doesn’t happen with Nutri-Score, which always uses 100 grams or milliliters, that the system is meant to be used to compare between similar products that use it, not between different categories of products or between products that use it and those that don’t, that there are many labels which can be said to create discrimination between those who can afford to go through the process required in order to display them and those who don’t and the solution would be to aid Romanian producers in obtaining those labels, and that producers who put their products through independent tests that respect certain standards that anyone can look up should be encouraged instead of banned.
Well, he did reply again, but only to this last part, asking what standards and saying that the very problem is that the system’s not standardized. So I sent him a link to the latest recommendations, which show that a Scientific Committee exists and proposes specific guidelines, so let’s see if he’ll reply again. Maybe I should have sent him a link to a summary as well, not only that entire document, but it’s not like someone in his position could actually be unaware of it… And I’d even expect him to welcome the existence of that Committee, since some fear that it offers a way for the system to be weakened under the influence of lobby groups.

Slightly later edit: As I was writing this post I noticed that a file that calculates a product’s Nutri-Score exists, so I had a look at it a little later, at night, and then sent another reply, to include that link as well. Again, not that he wouldn’t know about it, but just to do my part.


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