EC’s favoured sustainability labelling scheme is ‘unfit’ to assess agri-food products, organic sector warns 

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The European Commission’s favoured sustainability labelling scheme – the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) – is “unfit” to assess agri-food products, IFOAM Organics Europe has warned in a new position paper  

Sustainability labelling & the Planet-score is published at at a time of political change for sustainability labelling. The European Commission is expected to reveal the proposal for a Regulation on Substantiating Green Claims based on the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) under the lead of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV), on 30 November.

A second initiative, by the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), is the sustainable food systems law. Expected by the end of 2023, this framework should include principles underpinning a sustainability label.

IFOAM Organics Europe warns that Regulation on Substantiating Green Claims may pre-empt political discussions “that ought to be had in the context of the sustainable food systems law”. While we welcome the European Commission’s broad goal for the initiative in fighting greenwashing and providing more information to consumers, the organic group says the methodology it uses should contain some fundamental characteristics. Specifically, that it should:

• Support the transition towards more sustainable food systems and a multi-dimensional agroecological approach;

• Be based on science;

• Support the principles of a circular economy;

• Go beyond the environment; and

• Should not be presented as an aggregated score but rather as having different components.

IFOAM Organics Europe argues that labels need to be designed “within a holistic food policy approach” and should “not hinder initiatives or labels that are recognized by consumers and independent institutions and already guarantee a high level of sustainability, such as the organic label”. Acknowledging that PEF still relevant for manufactured industrial products, the group says it is “unfit” to assess the environmental performance of agri-food products and gives “misleading results”. IFOAM cites the example of eggs, where under PEF eggs from hens in cages score better than free range eggs, which in turn score better than organic eggs.

IFOAM favours a scheme developed jointly by the Institute of Organic Agriculture (ITAB) and other actors in France – a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)-based approach called Planet-Score – which it says would reflect the true environmental impact of food products. 

Importantly, Planet-Score incorporates :

• An updated method when it comes to certain indicators,

• A series of additional indicators to reflect those externalities that are not sufficiently taken into account in the LCA methodology (pesticides, climate, biodiversity and animal welfare) through a bonus / malus system.

The Planet-Score is receiving support from consumers: a study carried out on a representative sample of the French population composed of 1,000 consumers showed that 48% of consumers preferred an approach such as the Planet-Score to labels that only show a final score. It also received wide support from companies (organic and beyond) as it is being tested by more than 166 including supermarkets like Carrefour, Auchan and some brands of Danone, and others.

Read the position paper here.

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