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A new traffic-light style system of ‘eco scores’ is being introduced to help consumers determine the environmental impact of their food. Foundation Earth is launching front-of-pack labels developed by Oxford University with the support of the WWF in September.
Food with shorter supply chains, the likes of which are supported by local fine food independents, such as farm shops and delis, would likely have their sustainability merits highlighted by environmental food labels.
George Eustice, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs welcomed the launch of the labels, saying they have “the potential to help address the urgent challenges of sustainability and climate change”. According to the UN, the food industry contributes up to 37% of global greenhouse gases, and without intervention these are likely to increase by another 30% by 2050, due to increasing demand from population growth.
Simon Billing, executive director at Eating Better, told Speciality Food that the labels will help replicate what independent food producers and retailers have long been achieving in the sector on a greater scale. “Helping everyone better understand where their food comes from and how it’s been produced can help us make healthier and more sustainable choices. Many smaller producers are already embracing this by making provenance and higher animal welfare and environmental standards central to their brand.”
And while the labelling pilot will provide “valuable insights” about the impact of production, he added that the industry “urgently needs transformational and systemic change”.
Supermarkets and global food companies will run the pilot alongside a nine-month research and development programme funded by Nestlé, which will combine the Oxford method with a system devised by the EU-funded food innovation initiative EIT Food in order to roll out the labels across Europe in 2022.
The Foundation says the Oxford and EIT Food systems are unique globally, in that they both allow two products of the same type to be compared on their individual merits through a complete product life cycle analysis, as opposed to simply using secondary data to estimate the environmental impact of an entire product group.
Writing recently in Speciality Food, Emilien Hoet, head of ClimatePartner UK, argued that the UK food and drink industry needs consumers to make behavioural changes to reduce consumption of the foods with the greatest environmental impact. “Increasingly, social scientists, climate activists and certain government bodies have been calling for more behavioural interventions to influence food purchasing decisions, including carbon labelling on food packaging,” Emilien wrote.
“Results from consumer studies around carbon labelling indicate that there is a lack of understanding as to the extent our food choices are impacting the environment and the carbon footprint for which they are responsible,” he continued. “However, they also show that consumers are open to becoming more informed and, in the main, would like to make food purchasing decisions which contribute to limiting climate change.”
Andy Zynga, chief executive of EIT Food, said the launch of the labels was a “very significant moment” for the European food industry, and Chris Grayling, a former cabinet minister who currently has a private members bill in the House of Commons calling for environmental labelling of food and drink products, said such a system was “long overdue”.
“Consumers need clear and credible information they can trust so they can make more sustainable buying choices,” Chris Grayling continued.
While ‘eco scores’ on food and drink could be successful in shifting consumers’ behaviours, indies are already offering customers a more sustainable option where local food made by smaller producers with shorter supply chains and stronger links to provenance are prioritised.