Iberian ham, an integral a part of Spain’s cultural heritage, can also be a significant business bringing collectively pork producers, restaurateurs, ham makers and artisans such because the “cortadores” who’re expert in finely slicing the luxurious hams. The historic sector, nonetheless, is in disaster after the pandemic imposed sweeping closures on Spain’s hospitality sector. With eating places closed and occasions cancelled, the principal shoppers of Spain’s famed ‘pata negra’ ham are not in a position to pay the identical value as earlier than, if they’re even shopping for in any respect. Producers of the standard ham are having to slash costs, with the going-rate for the cured legs dropping 20-25% in lower than a yr. To make issues worse, this isn’t the one problem dealing with these producers: Spain is contemplating implementing a problematic dietary labelling system which discriminates towards this conventional meat, writes Colin Stevens.
Exports beneath menace
Whereas bars and eating places are reopening in a variety of Spanish areas, elevating hopes that the pandemic-induced hunch in demand for Iberian ham could also be on its final legs, the jamón business is dealing with a extra lasting problem if Spain introduces the controversial French front-of-pack (FOP) dietary labelling system, Nutri-score. A coalition of seven European member states, together with Spain, are backing the implementation of Nutri-score regardless of agnosticism from the European Fee, which declined to suggest a selected FOP labelling system, and strict opposition from producers of conventional merchandise like Iberian ham.
Certainly, fears abound within the business that Iberian ham’s popularity and gross sales may take a success if the labelling scheme is launched. Nutri-score makes use of a inflexible algorithm which calculates a meals’s “healthiness” primarily based on a set 100g or 100 mL portion dimension, whatever the meals concerned—a system which a lot of Nutri-score’s critics, from scientists to shopper teams, have decided to be vastly oversimplified and doubtlessly deceptive. This reliance on an arbitrary serving dimension may have devastating results on conventional merchandise like Iberian ham—certainly, Spain’s premium pork merchandise would obtain “poor marks” since Nutri-score doesn’t account for the truth that they’re often consumed in skinny slices as a part of a balanced meal.
This mislabelling may have very actual penalties. One business knowledgeable predicted that slapping a unfavourable Nutri-score on Iberian ham may trigger exports to fall by 50%, a blow which might throw a spanner into each the ham business’s efforts to recuperate from the Covid downturn and a €6 million European Union-backed marketing campaign to consolidate the presence of Iberian ham in strategic markets equivalent to France, Germany and the UK.
Well being advantages neglected
Spain’s pig farmers and ham makers aren’t solely involved with the potential monetary repercussions of implementing a system which provides their merchandise a poor rating. The sector can also be aggrieved as a result of Nutri-score’s limitations obscure the confirmed well being advantages of the standard meat. As a spokesman for the Inter-professional Iberian Pig Affiliation highlighted: “The system simply doesn’t provide a correct analysis of the qualities of one of many fundamental merchandise of the Mediterranean eating regimen, which is considered one of many healthiest diets on the planet.”
Certainly, Nutri-score’s punitive remedy of Iberian ham masks the truth that the meat is full of every little thing from antioxidants, to excessive protein content material, and a plethora of nutritional vitamins equivalent to iron, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. In accordance with research carried out by the Ramón y Cajal Hospital and by Extremadura College, Iberian ham is even helpful for cardiovascular well being as a result of it comprises so-called ‘oleic’ or monounsaturated fatty acids, that are essential to reducing levels of cholesterol. Certainly, the European Coronary heart Community really useful that the Nutri-score algorithm be revised by an unbiased panel of scientific consultants to make sure that it truly promotes cardiovascular well being.
A slippery slope
Sadly, Nutri-score’s simplistic scoring is not any means an issue distinctive to Iberian ham. The crux of the issue lies in the truth that the Nutri-score conflates all foodstuffs beneath one umbrella on its campaign towards excessive energy, sugar, fats and salt content material. The algorithm neither differentiates between wholesome fat and unhealthy fat, nor illustrates the content material of salubrious components that are elementary to a balanced eating regimen—in truth, the system is so skewed that whereas pata negra earns poor marks, eating regimen fizzy drinks obtain B grades. Whereas low-scoring processed meals can reformulate their merchandise to bump up their Nutri-score grades, the single-ingredient foodstuffs that make up the bedrock of the world-renowned Mediterranean eating regimen—European heritage merchandise like olive oil and cheese—haven’t any manner of reformulating their merchandise.
Nutri-score’s relegation of olive oil triggered explicit consternation, at a time when the Spanish olive oil sector is already beneath such financial stress that centuries-old olive timber are being chopped up for firewood. In February, Consumption Minister Alberto Garzón admitted that Nutri-score didn’t adequately mirror olive oil’s well being advantages—“olive oil is nice in your well being, and we can’t have a label that claims it’s unhealthy”, he defined. Spanish officers’ settlement that olive oil wouldn’t bear the Nutri-score label unsurprisingly solely added gas to the flames. The Iberian pork and cheese commerce unions subsequently requested exclusion for his or her merchandise too, however had been dismissed by Madrid’s Ministry of Shopper Affairs.
The labelling dispute has now unfold far past the agricultural sector and is threatening to change into a full-blown political disaster in Spain. The Partido Widespread and Vox parliamentary teams each lately filed requests that the federal government cease the implementation of Nutri-score on condition that the labelling scheme has come beneath hearth from everybody from nutritionists to agricultural producers, and highlighted the truth that different labelling methods, equivalent to Italy’s Nutrinform Battery, would possibly present at-a-glance dietary info with out penalising strategic sectors.
With the pandemic already inflicting extreme disruption to culturally and financially treasured industries equivalent to Iberian ham and olive oil, Spanish policymakers can’t afford to implement a labelling system that hopelessly muddles shoppers’ understanding of what’s wholesome and what’s not, and requires a prolonged record of exceptions to the rule. Fairly, the Spanish authorities ought to advocate a system that doesn’t negatively have an effect on these key sectors of their financial system, who have already got their backs towards the wall.