This leek pie that you have been buying for many years hasn’t tasted the same for a few days. Your discerning palate has not deceived you: an ingredient has indeed been modified. On May 20, 2022, the repression of fraud (DGCCRF) authorized the manufacturer to replace these crispy fried onions in sunflower oil… with raw onions. And this without modifying the packaging, with the exception of an obscure inscription “DEROG” printed near the expiry date.
Since April 26, more than 2,800 supermarket products have had their composition changed, without the list of ingredients being corrected on the packaging. The explanation? The Ministry of the Economy has granted a derogation to manufacturers in order to be able to quickly eliminate or replace sunflower oil, which has suffered shortages due to the war in Ukraine. The products mainly concerned are prepared meals, aperitif biscuits, foodstuffs from the bakery department or from fishing, then soups, sauces and condiments.
So how can you be notified of these changes not printed on the packaging? Franceinfo invites you to browse the search engine below, based on data from the DGCCRF, in which you can find all the references concerned in French supermarkets. You can search for a specific food using its name, brand and barcode number, or a type of replacement product, such as rapeseed oil.
Among the 2,833 references compiled in this database, a large majority of products now contain rapeseed oil, produced in large quantities in France, rather than sunflower oil. Other oils, such as coconut, palm and soya, are also used, which can reduce the nutritional and ecological values of the products concerned. Finally, some manufacturers have sometimes decided not to replace the missing oil or to find other substitutes, on a case-by-case basis.
The 2,833 labeling exemptions referenced above must still comply with certain rules. Once validated by the authorities, the derogation is valid for a period of six months, re-examined after three months. At a minimum, the words “DEROG” (for derogation) must be affixed to the packaging within two months and no later than June 26, 2022.
Certain modifications are also subject to stricter specific rules. For example, tAny addition of an allergen, gluten or even an ingredient derived from GMOs must be clearly and legibly marked on the packaging. Finally, the list of all these modifications is published online and available via a QR code displayed in store.
“I can only welcome the authorities’ effort to be transparent, even if everything is not perfect.”Camille Dorioz, campaign manager at the NGO Foodwatch
A framework that generally satisfies consumer defense organisations. With one exception: “We have a point of disagreement regarding in-store display, notes Olivier Andrault, food project manager at UFC-Que Choisir. We asked that the list of modified products be clearly displayed on the shelves. However, this was refused by the distributors. A downside shared by other NGOs. “No one is looking for their product on the DGCCRF website when they are shopping”adds Camille Dorioz.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, sunflower oil has therefore been replaced by rapeseed oil. A rather beneficial alternative from a nutritional point of view, rapeseed containing less saturated fatty acids. Carrefour’s shallot vinaigrette sauce thus goes from Nutriscore E to D, thanks to this substitution.
Conversely, other products have seen their nutritional qualities deteriorate without the consumer being informed. This is the case of Netto’s mascarpone tiramisu. Replacing sunflower oil with coconut oil, which contains more saturated fatty acids, dropped its nutriscore from C to D. Tokapi brand savory crackers suffered the same downgrade due to the replacing sunflower oil with palm oil, which is richer in saturated fatty acids and whose use is decried by environmentalists.
Shortage of sunflower can also affect egg quality. This is the case with certain boxes of the Auchan brand. “GMO-free food is no longer guaranteed for some hens”, confirms the distributor to franceinfo. This important information for the consumer is then written on the packaging via an additional marking. More anecdotally, some products have also seen the Dijon mustard they contained disappear, due to the shortage of sunflower oil. This is particularly the case with the Benedicta aioli, in which water and vinegar serve as a substitute.
In total, the DGCCRF estimates that only 1.3% of the derogations received involve a modification of the Nutriscore and that only one additional allergen was declared in a temporarily modified product. A drop in the ocean of supermarket references. “The impact for French consumers is obviously less than in countries where shortages affect foods as essential as cereals”reassures Olivier Andrault.
Transparency towards the consumer can still be improved. “Distributors and manufacturers have not used all their communication powers to inform consumers about these changes”, emphasizes Camille Dorioz. The DGCCRF points in particular to the major national brands, which have not all modified the list of ingredients displayed on the online ordering sites.
The question of controls also remains unresolved, while fraud prevention inspectors will still have their work cut out for them in the months to come: after food, the services of the Ministry of the Economy plan to tackle, shortly, to the derogations granted to cosmetics, which are also in difficulty in the face of shortages of sunflower oil.