Paris is going to trigger a potential revolution in European food policy by trialing colour-coded nutrition labels that have sparked outrage in parts of the food industry.
The big experiment started in September, when the Health ministry rolled out four different colour-coding systems on packaging to help curb obesity. France’s move will destroy any hopes of trying to preserve a common food labelling system across the EU and will cause fury from food businesses and Mediterranean countries, which fear that red warning symbols will stigmatize cheeses and olive oils.
Lobbyists and policymakers have been sniping at the U.K. for introducing the so-called ‘traffic light labels’ in 2013, but it is France that is now set to chart the course for Europe after Brexit.
Colour coding is crucial because the red or amber labels deliver an immediate, graphic warning to shoppers that a product is far saltier, fattier or more sugary than they imagined.
The labels make complex nutritional information more digestible, but the European Commission has held back from intervening in such a delicate policy area, although it is ultimately responsible for labelling. It hasn’t formally approved yet Britain’s ‘traffic light labels’, so it will now fall to France to force the issue.
“We decided to come up with a logo that will allow consumers to understand the nutritional values of a product in the blink of an eye,” French Health Minister Marisol Touraine told Le Parisien in May. “The aim is to trigger a reflex: Before buying, I look at the logo.”
Ministry researchers will test a replica of U.K.’s ‘traffic light labels’ as well as even easier-to-understand colour-coded labels designed by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM).
French retailers have offered their preferred labelling scheme too. It has a less intuitive colour scale running from green to blue, amber and purple. Food industry groups have suggested a label that contains no colour variation at all.
Choosing one labelling scheme from the four is surely going to generate further debates and discussions.
But one question inevitably pops up to our minds: will this revolutionary change affect the packaging industry as well?
Stay tuned to find out more about this extremely controversial topic.