Environmental labeling of food and drink products is “essential to help consumers make more informed choices, as well as producers who receive the information they need to innovate in a more sustainable way”.
That’s according to Foundation Earth, which formed last year with the aim of rolling out a Europe-wide eco-label scheme by autumn 2022. The organization has received backing from global giants of Nestlé food and beverage, Tyson Foods PepsiCo, Danone, Starbucks, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and M&S.
But Foundation Earth’s plans are hampered by what it calls “a proliferation and disparities between existing methods and labels”.
It is estimated that there are over 120 different types of front-of-package labels used on food and drink products around the world, all of which provide shoppers with more information about the environmental footprint of food.
In addition to Foundation Earth, there is Eco-Score, (courted by big names in European distribution such as Colruyt and Lidl) and Planet-Score in France. Four of the UK’s biggest retailers, Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, will also test a new environmental labeling scheme unveiled by food research body IGD this summer.
Some countries are also considering their own eco-labels. For example, Denmark is investing DKK 9 million (€1.2 million) in the development of a government-run climate label for food.
Ecolabels at loggerheads?
According to Foundation Earth, this flood of groups and methods “Risk of causing more confusion among consumers and industry players”.
It therefore calls for a harmonized approach in the EU and the UK. She has formed what she calls a “heavyweight” political and scientific coalition to define key principles for a future food and drink eco-labelling system.
The group includes high-level politicians from six countries, a number of leading European food and environmental scientists, the UN climate change body and three influential EU-backed initiatives in the area of food and climate change.
In a letter to the European Commission and the British government, the coalition “calls on all stakeholders to engage in an open, inclusive and collaborative way to find the optimized and harmonized solution we dream of”.
It states that an optimal environmental labeling system for food and beverages should:
- be governed by an independent body,
- be harmonized throughout the European continent,
- rely on the environmental footprint of EU products,
- rely on the foundations of life cycle analysis,
- use as much primary data as possible,
- allow products to be compared based on credible and robust product-specific data.
The letter stated: “As the future of environmental labeling for food and drink continues to take shape, it is essential that any eventual rating and labeling system is governed by an independent organization and harmonized across the European continent, in based on the environmental footprint of EU products.
“Environmental food labeling should also be based on the foundations of life cycle assessment, use as much primary data as possible, and allow products to be compared based on credible and robust product-specific data.
“It is encouraging to see that technical solutions will soon be available to make such a system a reality and that research is already underway on how consumer behavior can be affected by environmental rating.
“Any environmental labeling system that fails to adhere to these fundamental principles not only risks not gaining the trust of consumers, but would also fail to provide food and drink producers with the product information they need to introduce sustainable innovations in their supply chains.
“It is these small changes – when added up in the millions – that will go the furthest in reducing the environmental impacts of industry.”
In a separate public letter to other major labeling schemes, Foundation Earth chief executive Cliona Howie warned that “Future generations will not forgive us if we miss this chance” meet.
howie wrote: “Deploying multiple schemes, multiple different label designs, and various contrasting methods risks undoing all of our good work. If we fail to unite, we run the real risk of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. We will confuse consumers, increase costs for growers and retailers, and fail to grasp the potential to multiply our efforts and combine our expertise.
“Above all, we risk losing the trust and goodwill of the citizens on which the commitment and understanding of our mission depends.”
Foundation Earth has convened a summit in Brussels in September, which will be hosted by EIT Food and chaired independently by its chief executive Andy Zynga. EIT Food is the food innovation initiative of the European Union.
Guests from other environmental labels include representatives from Ecoscore, Planet Score and IGD.
In his letter to other organizations, Howie writes: “This is our opportunity to put aside commercial pressure and national politics and instead come together to bring about the change we all want to see. It is within our reach to do something extraordinary. Future generations will not forgive us if we miss this chance.”
“It’s not about who wins”
The summit will be the first of its kind, Foundation Earth said, and was convened in order to explore how different initiatives can come together to deliver an optimal labeling system better and faster – and avoiding unnecessary proliferation.
“The ambition is therefore to build a harmonized approach, i.e. a method and a label deployed on a large scale throughout the continent, respecting the key principles set out in the joint letter,“, explained a Foundation Earth spokesperson to FoodNavigator.
But the spokesperson denied that the summit was an attempt by the Foundation to become the dominant label in Europe.
“It’s not about whether FE, IGD, Planet or Eco ‘win’ or become the dominant label, it’s about all of us working together instead of competing, taking each other’s expertise and in us agreeing on a harmonized and unified path that is delivered better and faster together than it could alone,” said the spokesperson.
“We don’t care whether FE becomes the dominant initiative or not. We are only firm on the key tenets of the optimal future program and want to work with others to ensure they are delivered – so consumers get the clear information they need and industry gets the information they need. it needs to innovate in a more sustainable way. . It’s not more complicated than that.
“Everyone loses if there are multiple labels and multiple methods. We don’t affect the change we want to see – because it won’t allow us to build a more sustainable food and beverage industry. The aim of the summit is to avoid this by bringing together the main initiatives under one roof.
“We haven’t been invited yet”
How have other eco-labeling programs reacted to the news that Foundation Earth is hosting a summit to come up with “a method and a label that will be rolled out across the continent”?
IGD deflected the question, telling FoodNavigtor: “IGD recognizes the need for a harmonized approach to environmental labeling in the UK to avoid consumer confusion and we have worked closely with industry, WRAP and Defra to achieve this. We have made good progress , with four retailers testing environmental labels in a virtual reality environment this summer, as the food industry moves closer to developing a cohesive environmental labeling system.
“We are engaging with a wide range of stakeholders and are also working with the World Resources Institute to review our methodology to ensure that we consider the development of labeling systems in other markets. We welcomed this week the announcement that, as part of the government’s food strategy, it will develop a methodology that should be used by those who want to produce eco-labels – this will build on the work that the IGD is leading, ensuring consistency of data that supports a labeling system. We would be happy to continue discussions with relevant stakeholders and look forward to sharing the results of our trials later this year.
A Planet Score spokesperson told us: “We have not yet been invited, but we are happy to be informed that we will be.