On 14 April 2015, the Bill on the modernization of our health system was voted at the French National Assembly.
Article 5 of the Bill notably provides for the introduction of a new Article L. 3232-8 in the French Public Health Code which aims at improving nutritional information given to consumers on food products. Indeed, the current system, which stems from Regulation (EU) no. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers of 25 October 2011, is often considered as too technical and complex so that some consumers may not fully understand the nutritional composition of products and their impact on health.
If confirmed by the French Senate, the new Article L. 3232-8 of the French Public Health Code will provide that, to facilitate consumers' choice regarding the contribution of the food to the energy and nutrient content of a diet, the compulsory nutrition declarationprovided for by Article 30 of Regulation no. 1169/2011 can besupplemented by other forms of expression and presented using graphical forms or symbols. This additional nutrition labelling will only be voluntary. However, if professionals decide to use it, they shall all use the same national labelling in order not to mislead consumers. It will be applicable notwithstanding the provisions of Regulation no. 1169/2011 as to the nutrition declaration and shall comply with the rules laid down by Article 35 of the Regulation notably the fact that these symbols or graphical forms should be based on sound and scientifically valid consumer research and should not mislead the consumer, that their development should be the result of consultation with a wide range of stakeholder groups, that they should be supported by scientifically valid evidence of understanding of such forms of expression or presentation by the average consumer, that they are objective and non-discriminatory, that their application does not create obstacles to the free movement of goods etc.
The specifics of this voluntary nutrition labelling are not yet known and shall be defined in an implementing Decree. French Health Minister, Ms Marisol Touraine, has recently launched a reflection on the use of a colour code, similar to the "traffic lights" colour code currently used in the United Kingdom. Food products which would be healthy would bear a green mark whereas the ones contained the most sugar, salt or fat would bear a red mark. In between, food products would be able to bear yellow, orange or pink marks,depending on their composition. This idea to implement a five-colour code is not new and stems from a report submitted last year by a Professor of nutrition, Mr Serge Hercberg, in the scope of the redefinition of the national health strategy.
Although this reform is supported by scientists as well as consumers' associations, professionals of the food industry have recently indicated their opposition to the use of a colour-code which they consider as simplistic and stigmatizing. It is therefore likely that the discussions with all interested stakeholders around the practical implementation of such a colour-code are going to be complex. French Health Minister indicated that she would like to have a draft implementing Decree prepared by summer 2015.
The Bill must now be discussed and voted by the French Senate. No official date has yet been announced for the final vote of the Bill, which, according to the French Health Minister, could take place in the early fall of 2015.