A loud call for harmonised sustainability labelling

Posted: 29 June 2022 | | No comments yet

Professor Chris Elliott examines the dire need for a single system backed by science in which front-of-pack labelling can detail the sustainability credentials of a product honestly, consistently and properly.

Chris' CornerDespite the economic crisis we are facing and the soaring costs associated with keeping families fed, the burning issue of climate change hasn’t gone away. The importance of giving consumers accurate and easy to understand information on the environmental impact of food purchases to help drive change is clearly understood, but how we deliver this, much less so.

There are now more than 100 different initiatives in various parts of the world (although primarily in Europe) which are trying to achieve this goal. While this is commendable, it is equally worrying that there is potential for different schemes with different labelling systems based on different scoring systems to emerge – and will only serve to confuse us all.

As the CEO of Foundation Earth, one of the organisations driving for front of pack sustainability labelling, Cliona Howie stated: “If we fail to come together, we run the real risk of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. We will confuse consumers, add costs to producers and retailers, and fail and thus effect little or no change at all.”

I write this article as the Chair of the Scientific Committee of Foundation Earth but also as someone who really believes that a science-based, harmonised approach to such labelling is urgently needed. And whichever scheme delivers this will get my full support.

This week marked a hugely important landmark in getting to where we need to go. In a joint letter, convened by Foundation Earth, to the European Commission and UK Government, a coalition called for a harmonised approach to front of pack sustainability labelling. When the names and organisations that make up this coalition are looked at, it is truly a strong ‘force for good’ coming together. The coalition comprises senior politicians from six countries, a number of Europe’s leading food and environmental scientists, the UN’s climate change body, and three influential EU-backed food and climate change initiatives.

In Brussels this September, to be hosted by EIT Food, the European Union’s food innovation initiative and independently chaired by its chief executive Andy Zynga (New Food’s latest advisory board member).

The coalition has stated that an optimum environmental labelling scheme for food and drink should be based on the following six principles:

  • It should be governed by an independent organisation
  • It should be harmonised across the continent of Europe
  • It should be built upon the European Union’s Product Environmental Footprint
  • It should be based upon the foundations of life cycle assessment
  • It should use as much primary data as possible
  • It should allow products to be compared based upon credible and robust product-specific data.

Invitations have been sent to a range of representatives from environmental labelling schemes including Ecoscore, Planet Score and the IGD. I really hope that they will all attend and contribute to the summit to help bring about the harmonisation that is so urgently needed. This is not the time for turf wars and I believe a lack of willingness to participate in the summit will send their own signals to the stakeholder groups who will ultimately decide the correct direction of travel.

What we all want to avoid are the newspaper headlines about greenwashing that are appearing more and more frequently. Claims about sustainability, claims about helping save our planet must be built on the foundations of transparency and rigorous scientific data.

Chris, Cliona and Andy will all be speaking at The Food Safety Conference this October 5-6 in London

Register here!

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