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Italy is the country with the healthiest food in the world, but a “traffic light” could slow its growth

Italy is the country with the healthiest food in the world, but a “traffic light” could slow its growth

A record established by a Bloomberg study, and questioned by the labelling system that indicates extra virgin olive oil, parmigiano and other products of the Bel Paese as “harmful” compared with a carbonated light soft drink.

Strasbourg – Italy is the healthiest country in the world, says the study published by Bloomberg concerning 163 countries compared on the basis of certain criteria, where Italians, despite a “troubled” economic situation, are healthier than Canadians, Americans and British. Still, this record could be compromised by a series of “traffic lights”, very similar to each other, which could block the growth abroad (and perhaps in Italy as well?) of a leading sector for our health and our economy: the agribusiness.

Not only the British traffic light, which with the “red” light induces consumers to avoid foods such as cheese or olive oil, but are also six multinational companies of food & beverage, almost all non-European, which proposed a similar system to the European Commission. The “traffic light” labelling system (with red, yellow and green stickers), indicates products such as Prosciutto and many cheeses as “more dangerous for the health” than some Light drinks, for instance. Once again, the associations of the Italian industry, Federalimentare and Coldiretti, are the ones warning about the economic repercussions that this colour system has caused on the entire agri-food sector, in a conference held in Strasbourg, at the European Parliament.

Namely, the system adopted by the six multinational companies (Coca Cola, Mars, Mondelez, Nestle, Pepsico and Unilever), establishes the application of a label of a different colour, indicating to the presence / absence or to the amount of fat, sugar and salts in food products. According to these major international companies, this tool “helps to promote a healthier diet for consumers, in order to counter the rampant phenomenon of obesity and the diseases related to it.” “Actually,” said the President of Coldiretti, Roberto Moncalvo, during the meeting, “we see that with this system all products with artificial elements bear a green dot, while several products that are the basis of the Mediterranean diet are labelled with a red dot.” “Green and red do not represent an information, but an interpretation that tries to make the consumer take a certain direction, a way to influence consumers’ choices,” added Moncalvo.

“The study published by Bloomberg,” said the President of Federalimentare, Luigi Scordamaglia, “is an independent study” that certifies with “strong, certain and incontrovertible” data that Italy “is unrivalled in terms of food.” “Misleading labelling systems” such as the one of “traffic lights,” added Scordamaglia, “represent a clear decline in quality and standardization.” Furthermore, during the conference, the President of Federalimentare defined the European Commission as “elusive”, given that on issues like that they decided to label the question as a competence of single Member State. “It is very serious that the Commission hasn’t taken a stance, thinking they can delegate the 27 Member States’ Parliaments such a crucial issue.” According to Scordamaglia, “proposing a ‘simple’ system cannot mean renouncing to the quality.”

Investigating the possible reasons for multinationals to introduce such a system, President Moncalvo emphasized also that these companies “have the largest market shares in countries outside Europe, namely in those states that in the Bloomberg ranking have the thirtieth, fortieth positions or so.” This, according to the President of Coldiretti, justifies the use of these companies in the introduction of “traffic light” on products, in order to enable them to increase their market shares on the Old Continent, at the expense of quality of foods. A situation “fully” demonstrated by a Nomisma study, reported by the Associations of producers as a proof of the warning they launched, in which, for example, there is a 7% loss of Parmigiano Reggiano sales from 2013 to 2015 in the U.K. (where the ‘dots’ system applies), in stark contrast with the 7% increase in the rest of Europe for the same reference period.

MEP Paolo de Castro (S&D), who introduced the event, reiterated that “it is not up to coloured stickers to ensure a proper nutrition. We therefore urge the British to follow our dietary pattern, given that it is healthy and balanced.” De Castro stressed as well “the importance of having Coldiretti and Federalimentare together in this common struggle, not only with regard to ‘traffic lights’, but also on the issue concerning the origin of products. This Parliament has already voted in favour, but the European Commission is not proceeding on the matter, and Member States are acting alone, distorting the market. It is now time to take a step forward in this direction, urgently, towards what European consumers want.” In addition, De Castro said that the six multinational companies working on a proposal of their own, similar to the traffic light labelling system, “do not even pay taxes in Europe in their majority, to be honest.”

Words of opposition to the labelling system come from MEP Giovanni La Via (EPP) as well: “We have nothing to learn from the British, have a shorter life than the Italians by 8 years on average. This tool is not in line with the extension of life that we all have to pursue. It is a model that is based on corporate interests of some subjects which of course don’t care about the life and the health of European citizens. We strongly reject it.” According to La Via, ‘the European Commission is sort of a Pontius Pilate, but here at the European Parliament this thing is not going to be approved.”

Elisabetta Gardini, head of the delegation of Forza Italy (EPP), when presenting the conclusions of the event, remarked also that “according to the classification system of traffic lights, the healthy foods we give our children, such as whole milk or grated parmigiano cheese on soup, would be labelled with a red dot, becoming therefore more dangerous than a bottle of a light sparkling soft drink!”

Ms Gardini, who expressed her “strong” opposition to this system, added that “weighing parmigiana for the salt it contains means denying the quality of parmigiana chees in itself.” “The Mediterranean diet,” said Ms Gardini citing the UNESCO, “it is a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions.” This set, she continued, “represent such a diversification that it becomes a culture, in a world that has lived for thousands of years of history, and therefore cannot be replaced by those who go in a laboratory to produce something which is cheese-like.”