French blue cheese makers see red over nutrition labelling

The Nutri-Score system ranks food products on a colour-coded scale of A to E based on their nutritional value.
The Nutri-Score system ranks food products on a colour-coded scale of A to E based on their nutritional value.PHOTO: UNSPLASH

TOULOUSE (AFP) - Makers of France's famed Roquefort cheese are demanding a change to an increasingly widespread food labelling system that classes their pungent but popular products as being of poor nutritional value.

The Nutri-Score system, invented in France and adopted by some other European countries, ranks food products on a colour-coded scale of A to E based on their nutritional value.

Roquefort, a tangy blue cheese from southwest France, is always ranked at the bottom - either at D or E - putting it on a par with sugary drinks and crisps.

With the government considering making the Nutri-Score mandatory next year, they are now calling for an exemption, echoing concerns in other French cheese-making regions.

"It's paradoxical. There are ultra-processed industrial products with preservatives in them that can get an A or B, but our local and very natural products are stigmatised," Sebastien Vignette, head of the Roquefort Confederation told a press conference on Monday (Oct 11).

He called the scoring system "a simplistic logo".

The campaign has the support of local MP Stephane Mazars, who represents the Aveyron area where all Roquefort cheese is aged in limestone caves until it develops its characteristic blue mould.

"The desire to be transparent with the consumer must be rational and based on common sense," he said.

Around 7,000 tonnes of Roquefort are sold each year, with around a quarter sold overseas.

The Nutri-Score system is a voluntary labelling system adopted by France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, but its rollout to the whole of the European Union has been contested by some countries, notably Italy.

Backed as a tool to tackle obesity and other dietary problems, it rates food products based on their levels of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats to discourage consumers from eating too much.

For Vignette and other Roquefort makers, there "isn't a problem of excessive consumption of cheese in France".