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EU Policy. Italy to challenge Nutri-Score with constitution

Nutri-score converts the nutritional value of food into a scaled code ranging from A to E, coloured from green to red as an indicator of the health benefits.
Nutri-score converts the nutritional value of food into a scaled code ranging from A to E, coloured from green to red as an indicator of the health benefits. Copyright Romane Lhériau/EPJT
Copyright Romane Lhériau/EPJT
By Gerardo Fortuna
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Giorgia Meloni’s party is proposing a tweak in the country's constitution that would complicate adoption of the colour-coded front-of-packet labelling in Italy - and Europe.

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The Italian government is proposing an amendment to its constitution that would stymie introduction of the EU-backed Nutri-Score system in the mediterranean state, Euronews can reveal.

Italy has long been sceptical of the Nutri-Score scale, which converts the nutritional value of food into a scaled code ranging from A to E, coloured from green to red as an indicator of the health benefits. A key objection is that Nutri-Score is biased against Italian staples, such extra virgin olive oil, which is classified D and coloured orange.

During a European election rally held last week, Italy’s agriculture minister Francesco Lollobrigida – a member of the ruling Fratelli d’Italia party brother-in-law to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – announced a proposal to amend the constitution adding a right to healthy nutrition to existing protections enjoyed by Italian citizens.

"The Republic guarantees the healthy nutrition of its citizens. To this end, it pursues the principle of food sovereignty and protects products that symbolise national identity," the amendment states.

An agriculture ministry spokesperson told Euronews that the procedure for amending the constitution had already been initiated in Italy’s lower parliamentary chamber, the House of Deputies, by MP Tommaso Foti, and that a similar procedure will begin in the parliament’s upper chamber shortly.

The amendment would need to be voted twice by both chambers and approval by a simple majority would clear the way for a referendum to confirm or reject it.

Such a rule change would challenge the prospects for introducing Nutri-Score in Italy, since the health benefits of Italian foodstuffs would effectively be affirmed by the constitution.

The Nutri-Score system is currently being trialled in the aisles of supermarkets of six EU member states, and is widely tipped to be endorsed by the EU executive, which has been tasked with proposing a harmonised bloc-wide food labelling scheme.

In recent years Italy has organised several initiatives in Brussels designed to counter the Nutri-Score system, and launched diplomatic efforts to find allies with other EU countries against Nutri-Score.

These have succeeded in slowing progress of the Commission’s proposal, which was originally slated for publication at the end of 2022, but which has been delayed in view of its divisiveness.

The Italian government has instead endorsed the NutrInform Battery system of food labelling, a system which offers nutritional information on the foods and drinks consumed, highlighting portions recommended by nutritionists and the relative contribution of calories, salt, sugars, and fats to your diet.

Last week, a scientific symposium on Nutri-Score organised by Belgium, currently chairing the EU Council, and featuring an opening speech by Queen of Belgians Mathilde, was considered an attempt to put the issue of front-of-pack labelling back on the EU agenda.

The event organisers told Euronews that Italian representatives were invited and had confirmed a speaker but subsequently pulled out because the event clashed with a bank holiday in Italy.

The food scoring issue could be played among other political issues in the run up and aftermath of the EU elections, especially if Commission President Ursula von der Leyen seeks the support of Giorgia Meloni in her bid for re-appointment – something she has left open as an option in her recent debate perfomance.

“There is interest from von der Leyen in coming to terms with the Italian government right now,” said Lorenzo Castellani, professor of history of political institutions at Luiss University in Rome.

The expert told Euronews that Meloni’s and von der Leyen’s outlooks have been converging on issues such as migration, adding that the Italian PM could have greater negotiating leverage in the coming months until the new Commission is set up.

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