The Netherlands to roll out Nutri-Score: One in two Dutch people overweight, research warns
02 Dec 2019 --- The Dutch government is set to implement the Nutri-Score food labeling system to its food products by mid-2021, according to the Dutch National Institute for Health and Environment (RIVM). The move seeks to address a rising overweight epidemic, as Dutch research estimates that one in two Dutch people are currently carrying excess weight. Meanwhile, Dutch government-endorsed consumer research tested three European food labeling logos – Nutri-Score, Keyhole and the Multiple Traffic Light system. The results showed that Nutri-Score best helped consumers make healthier food choices. By implementing Nutri-Score, the Dutch government aims to join the movement toward healthier dietary decision making.
“It has always been our commitment to make healthier choices easier and now, we are taking a major step in that direction. Research has shown that the Nutri-Score logo helps consumers best to make healthier choices,” explains Paul Blokhuis, State Secretary of Health, Welfare and Sport. This is especially important given the Netherlands imports and exports a lot of food products, he states.
Lacking weight management, being overweight and obesity are rising global concerns that has been linked to several adverse health outcomes, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). The Netherlands is the most recent in a string of countries to take steps to combat the issue.
Commissioned by Blokhuis himself, the Dutch government researched three different labeling systems, namely the Scandinavian Keyhole, the British Multiple traffic light and the French Nutri-Score systems. Its results revealed that the Nutri-Score system helped lead study participants to make the healthiest dietary choice.
Using Nutri-Score, the Netherlands aims to join the movement toward healthier dietary decision making. Additionally, Nutri-Score is currently receiving international prominence, Blokhuis affirms. He highlights that the logo came out best in consumer research in Germany. France, Belgium and Switzerland have all opted for Nutri-Score for their food labeling, with Spain having spearheaded the initiative.
Blokhuis specifies in a letter addressing the Dutch Lower House that use of this logo from Dutch food producers is not permitted under current legislation. However, producers from neighboring countries who have already legally introduced the labeling system may feature Nutri-Score on their products. Indeed, food giant Nestlé also has plans to roll out said nutrition front-of-pack labeling (FoPL) on its products in five European countries, starting in the first half of 2020.
Commenting on this Dutch move, Judy Schnitger-Zwinkels, Head of Corporate Communications, at Nestlé Netherlands, tells NutritionInsight, “We welcome the decision of the Dutch government to support Nutri-Score and will engage with the Dutch authorities to ensure compliance with local regulation. It is possible that a few of Nestlé’s multi-lingual products reach the Netherlands before mid-2021. As for the other countries, we will roll-out Nutri-Score across brands of our wholly-owned businesses in the Netherlands once the local framework will have been clarified.”
As more European countries choose to adopt Nutri-Score, the French government is planning to make it a system that is internationally administered. It aims to grant it its own, independent scientific committee, according to the Dutch government.
Schnitger-Zwinkels affirms that several recent consumer studies show that Nutri-Score is easy-to-understand and helpful for consumers in Europe. Moreover, it has the potential to shift consumer preferences towards healthier diets. Despite how promising Nutri-Score may seem, the RIVM notes that scientific literature fails to provide “convincing and consistent evidence” of the Nutri-Score system’s influence in practice. Moreover, the system does not always comply with the Dutch dietary guidelines in certain areas, the Dutch government asserts.
Recently, a study published in the journal Nutrients affirmed Nutri-Score’s high-ranking effectiveness; however, it also concluded that there were no significant differences observed for how FoPLs influenced food choices. More significantly, the Nutri-Score system has been criticized for reflecting “false facts,” and thereby misleading consumers, according to a report from the German Sugar Industry Association (WIZ).
The RIVM, the Dutch Nutrition Center and nutritional experts have taken note of these concerns. They flag that there are certain differences between Nutri-Score and Dutch nutritional guidelines. For example, Nutri-Score reportedly ranks white bread too positively, and olive oil too negatively, in comparison with Dutch nutritional advice.
To ensure a factually correct adoption, the Dutch government has plans to actively collaborate with an independent, international scientific committee on how to prepare for the logo’s implementation. Blokhuis expects to complete this procedure by mid-2021, so that Dutch producers can legally apply Nutri-Score in the Netherlands.
“There is still work to be done before we are satisfied and can continue to fully implement the introduction. We are now opting for Nutri-Score to be able to work with Dutch food scientists and to have it further improved,” Blokhuis maintains.
One of the most crucial public health problems currently faced by the Dutch government is being overweight, with one in two Dutch people currently overweight. Reducing obesity is, therefore, one of the central topics in the National Prevention Agreement, in which 70 organizations have made agreements toward making the Netherlands a healthier country.
In addition to the food choice logo, the Dutch government is also striving to introduce a new approach to using less salt, saturated fat and sugar in products. To motivate people to opt more often for healthier products, producers have agreed that by 2025 there will be 30 percent less sugar in the total amount of soft drinks consumed throughout the Netherlands, according to the Dutch government.
Translated and written by Anni Schleicher
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