A scathing report on the FSA's Nutrient Profiling Model has concluded that the system is so crude the FSA could have achieved the same ends by simply measuring calories.
In a leading peer-reviewed nutritional journal published this week, Dr Adam Drewnowski's report concluded that 53% of the score given to a food or drink product was explained by the number of calories - or energy density - alone, and "the contribution of other components to the score was relatively minor".
This meant the model penalised foods that were dry, he said, with grains, in particular, scoring poorly.
Drewnowski criticised the NPM for its inconsistent scientific approach, saying it did not discriminate between different fruit and vegetables even though it purported to classify foods based on their nutrient composition.
"In the FSA model, fruit, vegetables and nuts get points awarded just for being themselves, regardless of their nutrient composition," said Drewnowski, who is director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington. "I do see the value of promoting fruit and veg consumption, but you cannot promote a specific group of foods and then claim the results are based on science."
The report found other flaws in the NPM. It doesn't consider a number of important positive nutrients, such as vitamins, folate and calcium, for instance, and also fails to take into account the cost implications of a healthy diet.
According to the report, calculations using the NPM scores and 2006 Seattle prices showed that, of 375 foods tested, those that passed the NPM were on average four times more expensive than foods classified as HFSS.
"Nutrient profiling models should take cost into account," said Drewnowski. "If regulatory agencies are charged with coming up with models, they ought to be sensitive to the average shopper."
The report was published just hours before the FSA was set to begin its review of the controversial NPM, which The Grocer has been campaigning to overturn.
A panel comprising representatives from NICE, the Medical Research Council, the British Dietetic Association, the University of Leeds and the British Nutrition Foundation met on Thursday to kick off the review.
Drewnowski's report will be an embarrassing reminder to the FSA that despite its insistence that the methodology had been scrupulously and independently tested, a number of scientists and nutritionists around the globe are strongly opposed to it.
The US has developed a number of alternative systems, including the Naturally Nutrient Rich score that Drewnowski has pioneered and which takes into account 14 positive nutrients.
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