Monday, 24 January, 2022

Ultra-processed food products in the sights of MPs

“Just because food is safe doesn’t mean it’s healthy.” By presenting the proposals of the commission of inquiry on industrial food this Wednesday, its president, the deputy La France insoumise Loïc Prud’homme, has driven the point home. Without wanting to attack the whole of industrial food or to ignore the “overall good” sanitary quality of products, he points to “the explosion of chronic diseases linked to food”. Supporting figures: 4 million people with type 2 diabetes, 49% of the overweight adult population in 2015, including 17% of obese people according to Public Health France. “In 2030, it is estimated that there will be at least 30 million obese or overweight people” adds Michèle Crouzet, the deputy LREM rapporteur of the committee. With a social cost of “20 billion euros per year” for obesity, according to Loïc Prud’homme who underlines the health issue of food. Hence the relatively long list of committee proposals.

Reduce additives

In the viewfinder of the deputies are in particular the ultra-processed products regularly pointed out. One of the priorities mentioned by Loïc Prud’homme is indeed the “fight against the infinite extension of ultra-processed products”. It evokes the technique of cracking which consists in breaking down a food into several components allowing to build new products. “With the same ingredients, we can make cereals or sausages” he describes before pointing to another element linked to these food products: “the massive presence of additives”.

Hence the recommendation of the report of the commission of inquiry: to put in place “a strategy aimed at developing industrial practices for the use of additives” with the stated objective of reducing the number of additives by 2025. 48 used, those authorized in organic food, against… 338 authorized in total today. “We will have to determine what are the additives of convenience, which do not serve much” adds Michèle Crouzet, the deputy LREM rapporteur of the commission of inquiry. The NGO Foodwatch, which welcomes this report, calls however to “go further and faster” by eliminating in particular all controversial additives. Another angle of attack of the parliamentary committee: to establish a “quantitative limitation of the number of additives which can be used in the same food product”.

In addition, there is a recommendation to define a priority public research program on “the health effects of industrial food” particularly targeting ultra-processed products, the massive presence of additives and “cocktail effects”. The report also wants to ban titanium dioxide, used to bleach or shine food products and whose presence in the form of nanoparticles in confectionery, cakes, etc. is regularly criticized because its effects on health raise many concerns.

Limit the salt, sugar and fat content

The other aspect of improving the quality of industrial food products is the nutritional aspect. It must be said that the French are still far from the WHO recommendations for salt, sugar, and fatty acids. And here again, Loïc Prud’homme does not mince his words: “we have trusted voluntary commitments for 30 years but it does not work.” While there is no clear question of taxing excessively salty products as had been mentioned, the report pushes to institute legally “a limitation on the content of salt, sugar and fatty acids” for processed foods. And who says regulation says financial sanction in the event of non-compliance. “It’s a job that will have to be done by product category” specifies Michèle Crouzet.

>> To read also: Taxing excessively salty products after the soda tax: a winning recipe?

The question of bread is already detailed. And for good reason, this corresponds to “30% of salt intake per day” recalls Michèle Crouzet. The report therefore recommends setting the maximum salt content now at 18 grams per kilo of flour and reducing it to 16 grams within three years. “With 18 grams per kilo of flour, there is no change in the taste of the bread” notes the rapporteur. “When we eat too salty, too sweet, too fatty, addictions are formed. We must relearn to eat less salty, less sweet, less fatty. We must therefore go step by step.”

Concerns of the French

It remains to be seen what impact these proposals will have. Especially since the presentation of this report comes when the food law must definitely be adopted next week by the Assembly … “The legislative vehicle is yet to be determined” recognizes Michèle Crouzet, recalling that this report and these proposals touch on issues. very varied points and can be included “in addition to the food law” or in the reflection around the next National Health Nutrition Program (PNNS). And Michèle Crouzet to assert: “it is never too late to do well.” The success of applications like Yuka to decipher the content of his plate shows in any case that the concerns of the deputies join those of the French: knowing precisely what we eat… and eating better.

The other recommendations of the report to remember

Education: the report proposes to develop a national educational program for healthy eating and against wasting, with the 2019/2020 school year in sight.
Collective catering: improve the nutritional quality of meals in hospitals and schools.
Publicity: establish “restrictive provisions concerning any product likely to harm the health of children and adolescents”.
Labeling: make the Nutri-Score compulsory, even though an amendment on this subject had been rejected under the food law, but also the mention of the origin of the products and the overall proportion of additives for processed products and ultra-processed.
Social inequalities: set up an allowance via coupons issued by family allowance funds, to help “families in poverty with dependent children” to consume more fruit and fresh vegetables in particular.
Governance: create a specialized general secretariat and strengthen the staff and technical resources of the DGCCRF and the General Directorate for Food.