Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Italy Fights EU On Nutri-Score System

Nicholas Zalewski
Italy says no to the Nutri-score system. Source: Il Fatto Alimentare

For anyone even slightly familiar with Italy, the nation is very protective of its cuisine. This, however, is for good reason. Italian food is consistently considered one of the best worldwide and restaurants serving pasta and pizza are available all over. Italy’s first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni is concerned that the European Union’s nutritional rating system is flawed and potentially even biased towards an Italian diet. The Nutri-score system as it currently stands would rank foods with a grade from A to E and would require olive oil to write a D on the front of the label. For anyone familiar with the benefits of olive oil, this can be perplexing. The D rating likely comes from the fact that olive oil is highly caloric with 100 grams of the ingredient containing over 800 calories, yet Italian cuisine only requires a small amount. While 100 grams of other foods such as vegetables, fruit, grain, and meat may be consumed in one sitting, it is unfair to compare olive oil in this manner when it is not meant to be consumed this way. As it stands, citizens who carefully watch nutrition labels may be scared away by the label, causing more harm than good. 

In order to block the rating system, there have been moves to amend the constitution. Italy has also worked to find allies in the European Union to oppose the nutrition rating system. It has yet to be seen if these efforts will work, yet it is a worthy fight. The system appears to focus more on low-calorie, low-fat foods as ‘healthy’ while calorie dense and fat rich foods are ‘bad’, despite that people need some fat in their diet and not all fats are equal, such as those in olive oil.

Picture of olives next to olive oil in jars of various sizes. Source: Italian Food News.

Olive Oil’s Role In The Mediterranean Diet

Italy may have good reasons too to refute a nutritional rating system that overlooks the benefits of some foods. Italy has consistently had a longer life expectancy than not only wealthier member states in the European Union, but one of the highest life expectancies worldwide. In 2023, life expectancy in Italy is 83,8 years, only behind Spain (84 years). Both nations are significantly higher than the EU average of 81,5 years. This is why it is unjust for critics of Meloni to try to dismiss her concerns as far-right nationalism when she has a point. Research regarding olive oil demonstrates it can be beneficial with fighting inflammation which has a role in type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. While the intended aim of the new rating system is to simplify nutritional information, the benefits of products consumed in moderation such as extra virgin olive oil are overlooked. Besides olive oil, traditional cheese such as gorgonzola and parmiggiano reggiano will receive low ratings. Traditional Italian cooking does not encourage overconsumption of these products in the first place.

Photo discussing the controversial research funded by Bill Gates and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Source: Canva.com, Farm Journal

Bill Gate’s Funded Research

While Italy is sounding the alarm bell on how systems meant to give nutritional guidance to citizens are flawed, it is not the first to do so. Another recent example is a study by Dr. Dariush Moaffarian, a cardiologist and the dean of the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science. The study has been heavily criticized on social media after it was realized that the study was funded in part by the Bill Gates and Melinda Gates Foundation and appears to align with his past statements about eating less meat. While nutritionists typically recommend a well rounded diet and do not recommend the overconsumption of meat, this study gives a higher grade to peanut butter m&ms than it does to pork and beef sausage, and General Mills cocoa puffs are ranked higher than grilled chicken. This seems perplexing as just one serving of General Mills cocoa puffs contain 13 grams of sugar, equivalent to slightly over half of what a woman should consume daily and 36 percent for a man according to the American Heart Association. It also contains only 2 grams of protein, compared to 26 grams in a 3-ounce serving of grilled chicken breast.

While people should be encouraged to maintain a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods and not just meat, it is extremely concerning that research is essentially advising people that sugary cereal and peanut butter m&ms are significantly healthier than meat. As Meat however typically contains more protein per 100 grams than other foods such as cocoa puffs, peanut butter m&ms and fruits and vegetables, including moderate amounts can be beneficial to people in order to increase satiety and prevent themselves from overeating.

Labeling Foods And Eating Disorders

While the intent of this rating system is positive, it can have negative consequences on Europeans suffering from eating disorders. People who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia will often take it upon themselves to categorize different foods as good or bad. Now the new food labels will reinforce this, potentially making it harder for those suffering from eating disorders to establish a healthy relationship with food. Instead of pushing the message that some foods should be consumed in smaller portions, those suffering from eating disorders may struggle to push themselves to purchase foods not rated as ‘A’ or ‘B’. Giving Extra Virgin Olive oil only a letter grade higher than sugary beverages can be harmful to citizens, ED or not. While sugary beverages essentially have NO health benefits and besides enjoyment have no reason to be consumed, olive oil can be beneficial in multiple ways in moderate consumption.


While it is commendable that the European Union wants to help provide nutritional guidance to citizens, focusing on labeling individual products as good or bad may do more harm than good. Some foods should be consumed in moderation more than others, yet this does not mean that they should be avoided entirely. Simply labeling foods A through E erases this nuance and fails to teach moderation to EU citizens. People should not completely avoid olive oil, simply use it in moderation. Opponents of Meloni should not be quick to dismiss her concerns as far-right nationalism but instead examine why a rating system of food is being proposed in the first place instead of in-depth lessons on nutrition in schools. While it can be beneficial to try to simply subjects for people to better understand them, some subjects cannot be easily simplified but instead require people to have the resources to fully understand them. Instead of labeling foods as good or bad based on a letter grade, the European Union should provide more resources so citizens understand that while some foods may be more caloric than others, consuming them in moderation will not hurt them. 

Please Read The Following For More Information:

Fortuna, Gerardo. “EU Policy. Italy to challenge Nutri-Score with constitution”. Euronews. 03 May 2024.

Cook, Jennifer. “Are all olive oils equally healthy for you? A look at the research.” The Washington Post. 18 March 2024.

Carolan, Ciara “Nutri-Score system could be rolled out across the EU”. The Brussels Times. 2 January 2024.

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