After 40 years of struggle, Professor Serge Hercberg has contributed to the development of nutrition and nutritional epidemiology as disciplines. A fight that he describes in his book Eat and shut up. We owe him, among other things, the Nutri-Score.
Physician and researcher in nutritional epidemiology, professor at the Sorbonne Paris-Nord University, Serge Hercberg also directed the nutritional epidemiology research unit at the Inserm/Inrae/CNAM/Paris 13 University for 20 years. He directed the first large epidemiological studies such as SU .VI.MAX , then NutriNet-Santé. For the Ministry of Health, he chaired the PNNS, National Program for Nutrition in Health. He created the first course of “Nutrition and Public Health”. Fighting against junk food, demanding transparency about the nutritional quality of food seems obvious to us. They were not when the doctor started his career. One of the most bitter fights, won, that he has opposed is that of Nutri-Score, whose 5-color logo we all see on supermarket shelves. The scientific studies and the tenacity of his team defeated industrialists and politicians, raffling the former over the latter.
It only targets industrial products.
How did you manage not to give up? “I had a very united team and the awareness of doing useful work for public health. The icing on the cake, the Nutri-Score did not need to be mandatory, manufacturers from Nestlé to Carrefour, from Fleury-Michon to Danone or Intermarché, Auchan or Leclerc and many others, initially opposed, felt compelled to adopt it. As for the recalcitrants, Serge Hercberg does not hesitate to mention them. Like Matteo Salvini, the Italian eurosceptic, who accuses Nutri-Score of doing away with the Mediterranean diet. A pity since the logo is totally consistent with this model and focuses more on the defense of fruits and vegetables! And Nutri-Score only targets industrial products. If the list of nutrients and ingredients is mentioned on the packaging, it is incomprehensible to most consumers. Nutri-Score makes it simple.
Banning vending machines for snacks and other sweets in schools is a victory for the team! The “5 fruits and vegetables a day” banner, a paradoxical mandate, since a rather harmful product is promoted above, this banner is also due to the team. The latter would have preferred to ban these ads. He had against him the media, the food industry, the ministries of agriculture and the economy.
Nutri-Score or the war of the five colors
In this month of March 2014, the epidemiologist must face the National Food Council (CNA) and present his report with 15 measures to relaunch the nutritional public health policy in France. And among these measures, the five-color logo that will become the Nutri-Score. The nutritionist describes the scientific bases on which his future logo is based. Health Minister Marisol Touraine wins over her cause. However, that day she faced not only the CNA, but industrial, union, ministerial and regional representatives. The invectives merge. “It is the death of the land, the end of exports, thousands of jobs lost. “This project is liberticidal, stigmatizing. Added to this is the media when it proposes to ban junk food advertising. “Nineteen channels dedicated to children are going to die… You are murdering the French creation! It is not about banning, just proposing a better balance. And raw products are not affected.
advise without imposing
Choose, among different pizzas, the least fatty, the least salty, among various cakes, the least rich in sugars, limit the damage. Nothing more. However, except consumer associations, it is Hallali. The lobbies promise to produce their counter-statistics. The professor’s number one enemy: ANIA, the National Association of Food Industries with its 17,600 companies and 430,000 jobs.
Unions of meat, cold cuts, sugar, salt, breakfast cereals, fruit juices, etc., the list of attackers is as staggering as their bad faith. “Ban soft drinks in schools? Scandal! Children need to be rehydrated. Nutri-Score eventually won out and was adopted in several countries. 815 French companies apply it, covering 57% of the French food market.
After the Nutri-Score, go further
Today organic is sought, additives and pesticides are prohibited. Did you exceed the Nutri-Score that doesn’t take you into account? “Nutri-Score never claimed to solve everything on its own,” Prof. Hercberg replies.
The proof is that it is added to the organic logo, and a black band could make it possible to recognize ultra-processed industrial foods. European regulations exempt small producers from non-prepackaged artisan productions, Ardèche sausage, foie gras from the South-West or Le Mans rillettes that Stéphane Le Foll, its mayor, accused us of wanting to eliminate. We have shown that not everything is based on consumer responsibility, which the food lobby has wanted to make believe, exonerating itself of any accusation. If nutritional transparency becomes more present in food packaging, our fight will not have been in vain. »
read also How to recognize real honey?