Front-of-pack labeling systems: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable and healthy food choices

 

Consumers are more and more aware of links between health and nutrition, as well as the impact of food systems on the environment. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are paying more attention to their eating habits and environmental attitudes, with the concept of food sustainability (e.g., more consumption of plant-based foods and local products) being gaining increased popularity.

Front-of-pack labeling can be useful to help consumers shifting toward more environmentally friendly diets while decreasing the consumption of unhealthy foods. Labelling schemes such as Nutri-Score allow consumers to make better choices for their health, based on the food content of fat, sugar, salt, etc. Nutri-Score has been first implemented in France in 2017, and it is based on using letters – from A to E – and colors – from green to orange, with the ”A” being  attributed to the highest nutritional quality (dark green) while the ”E” identifies the lowest nutritional quality (dark orange). Another well-known front-of-pack labeling is called NOVA scheme that takes into account the processing degree of food and drink products, classifying them into 4 groups; group 1 for unprocessed or minimally processed foods, group 2 for processed culinary ingredients, group 3 for processed foods, and group 4 for ultra-processed foods. It should be stressed here that several studies have reported a direct link between consumption of ultra-processed food and chronic and non-communicable diseases. Recently, Siga score was developed, combining the NOVA groups with four new more reductionist subgroups.

Although various reports indicate the usefulness of these food classification systems, a quick look at Open Food Facts (a free food products database) shows considerable disagreement or even contradiction between the existing schemes. For example, most of the “pain de mie” products have the highest nutritional quality (A) using Nutri-Score, whereas NOVA score gives negative scores (group 4: ultra processed foods) to these products (See https://fr-en.openfoodfacts.org/cgi/search.pl?search_terms=pain+mie&search_simple).

More recently, other schemes, such as Eco-Score (guides consumers to choose products with the least impact on the environment) and Planet-Score (considers the impact of using pesticides on human health or damage to biodiversity) have been proposed. This multiplicity of standards and schemes as well as their disagreement in some cases has resulted in a lack of trust and growing confusion of consumers. Therefore, development of a holistic universal scheme that takes into account consumer health, environmental aspects, and process manufacturing, and at the same time is easily, readily, and quickly understood by the consumer remains a crucial challenge that must be addressed urgently.

In this project, we will make a critical overview of the aforementioned front-of-pack labeling schemes, along with providing relevant recommendations in this regard.

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