when freedom of expression clashes with justice

    Yuka was sentenced by the Aix court for “acts of denigration” against the producer of charcuterie ABC Industrie. The company accuses the application of disseminating false information on the dangers of nitrites. For her part, Yuka claims freedom of information.

    Does an application have the right to speak ill of a ham tray? The Aix-en-Provence court has ruled. On Monday, Yuka was convicted of “denigration” and “deceptive practices” against charcuterie maker ABC Industrie.

    The company based in Peyrolles-en-Provence in the Bouches-du-Rhône accused the application of having caused it “significant financial and moral damage, in addition to serious damage to its reputation”.

    The subject of the debate: an addendum. ABC Industrie accused Yuka of disseminating false information on the dangers of nitrites for the health of consumers.

    A bad mark that stains

    The Yuka application, which can be downloaded for free on a phone, allows you to scan food in the supermarket. A score out of 100 is then displayed, an assessment, a color (from green to red), as well as a sheet concerning the composition of the product.

    However, for nitrite, the additive E250, the color is red. And the note of the knacks, as shown for example below, suffers as a result.

    0/100 for these Knacks from Alsace ...

    0/100 for these Knacks from Alsace …

    © Yuka

    This is what happened for ABC Industrie. But Yuka denies it: “This company mainly sells products by the cut, these are products that you do not see in Yuka”, reacted to AFP Julie Chapon, the co-founder.

    Yuka appeals and defends “freedom of expression”

    According to the court ruling, Yuka must withdraw the “high risk” assessment attributed to the additive E250 (nitrite) and remove any mention specifying that nitrites are “carcinogenic” or “genotoxic”.

    But Yuka decided to appeal. In a press release, the team “regrets that the arguments of industrial lobbies have taken precedence over information and consumer protection”.

    “Beyond the public health issue, this decision raises a real question about freedom of expression and freedom of information for consumers”, says Yuka.

    Freedom of expression, defined by the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, however, comes up against limits, recalls Antoine de Brosses, lawyer at the Paris bar specializing in the agri-food industry.

    First milestone: freedom of expression is limited to what does not harm others. Denigration, one of the accusations against Yuka, is making public, pejorative accusations about products. “On the Yuka app, the criticism is obvious”, notes Antoine de Brosses.

    Green light for these whole rusks.

    Green light for these whole rusks.

    © Richard BRUNEL / MaxPPP

    This criticism could be accepted if it respected certain limits, develops the lawyer relating to the jurisprudence. It criticism must meet three conditions: “relate to a subject of general interest, be based on a sufficient factual basis and be expressed with some measure”.

    According to the decision of the Aix-en-Provence court, Yuka would not meet all the conditions, and in particular the second.

    An insufficient scientific basis?

    If the general interest cannot be contested, the court accuses Yuka of not having balanced the various scientific proposals on the subject of nitrites.

    For her part, Yuka believes that the court’s decision does not fully recognize the many scientific opinions. The app rates the products according to 3 criteria: nutritional quality (60% of the score), based on the Nutriscore calculation method, the presence of additives (30%) and the organic dimension (10%).

    For additives, the app says it takes into account the opinions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the National Food Safety Agency (ANSES), the International Cancer Research Center ( IARC), “but also numerous independent studies”.

    “We would like to remind you that the WHO has classified sausages as a certain carcinogen (category 1) and the nitrites / nitrates ingested as probable carcinogens (category 2A)”, they stressed in the press release.

    However, according to the Aix court, the application did not modify the opinions concerned with this famous additive. “They are criticized for being biased for having cited only the evidence without having cited the evidence”, explains Me de Brosses.

    Yuka’s scoring system was not questioned.

    Julie Chapon, co-founder of Yuka

    The third condition, the measure, also raises questions, when the application can note “to be avoided”, “bad”, “poor”, “dangerous” on certain products. “Yuka’s scoring system has not been questioned”, reassures Julie Chapon.

    The company ABC Industrie was indeed rejected of its request by Yuka to delete the qualifiers “bad” and “mediocre” attributed to its products concerned.

    Independence and benefits

    Should the Yuka app find new shades in its colors? Will it have the same impact … and the same success?

    Today, 25 million people use Yuka in the world, including 16 million in France, 5 million products are scanned every day, or about 58 per second. The application displays its total independence and does not use advertising. Yes but here it is, Yuka remains a company and not an association or an NGO.

    To finance itself, the app has developed a paid version, at 15 euros per month, in addition to the free version. She also released a book, a seasonal fruit and vegetable calendar, and a nutrition program.

    For Me de Brosses, the fact that Yuka is a profit-making company can be a point of vulnerability. This conviction, if it is confirmed on appeal, will it give the idea to other manufacturers?

    At the end of May, the Paris commercial court had already condemned Yuka in favor of the Federation of industrial pork butchers (FICT), of which ABC Industrie is a member. Yuka appealed in the same way.

    “A majority of brands are working with us to improve their products and provide healthier products to meet the demand of consumers who want to eat healthier and know what’s in the products they buy. The refractories are minimal.”.

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