Urgent progress is needed on creating a “unified eco-labelling” system, the (UK) Food Standards Agency’s chief scientist, Robin May, has warned.
In a new blog post, May argues writes that “transforming the food system into one that is fully sustainable relies on a central premise – that the environmental footprint of foods is known”. The simplest way to signal this crucial information, he says, is transparent and accurate labelling.
‘Eco-labelling’ of foods would enable consumers to compare the environmental footprint of different foods and vote with their wallets. More importantly, says it would be would be a “powerful driver of change in the food industry”.
But May warns that competing claims and logos and a lack of industry alignment on the issue mean that consumers are unsure where to place their trust. He continues: “To set the food system on a path to sustainability, we need to urgently tackle this information vacuum. Doing so will require an unprecedented level of collaboration between business, academia and government, but comparable climate-driven collaborations are already underway in sectors such as transport and energy, and there is no reason that food should be different.
If a national eco-labelling scheme were to be developed, questions would almost certainly arise about how such a scheme would sit alongside existing eco labels, for example organic. Would a traffic light type system, for example, oversimplify complex environmental issues, disadvantaging food and farming systems with more holistic approaches?
Foundation Earth trials on-pack ‘Eco Impact’ scoring system
This Autumn, Foundation Earth – a new non-profit backed by the government, global food giant Nestlé and several major British brands – launched a pilot trial of its front-of-pack ‘Eco Impact’ labelling initiative. The scheme uses a traffic light system that scores products from A-G, based on their performance across four measures: Carbon, Water Usage, Water Pollution, and Biodiversity.
Main image: New ‘Eco Impact’ labelling system from Foundation Earth.