From September the UK is trialling a new way to show the sustainability of food products which will hopefully be rolled out across the rest of Europe next year.
1. How green are our groceries?
The carbon footprint of our food has a huge impact on our environment. If we don’t pay attention to what we buy, a trip to the local supermarket can easily involve food flown in from the other side of the world, produced in an unsustainable way, or foods that are simply not good for our planet. Supermarkets are filled with out of season products or those that come from supply chains that cause serious harm to the planet, yet it can be difficult for the consumer to find this information. However, even for those making an effort to purchase sustainably, it can be confusing. The information on food labels is not always there, or can be difficult to understand, or just totally conflicting.
2. A new label
A new food labelling system being trialled in the UK from September onwards aims to solve the confusion around food sustainability and help people make sustainable choices at the supermarket more easily. Front-of-pack labels on food products including meat, milk and vegetables will show their environmental scores according to a traffic light system, making it clear exactly how big their impact is on the planet.
The development of a more transparent, sustainable global food supply system is of huge importance to the health of our planet and health of all citizens.Professor Chris Elliott, chair of Foundation Earth’s scientific advisory committee
The scores will come from the products’ carbon emissions, biodiversity impact and water usage from farm to supermarket and will be based on the individual merit of a product, rather than a generic rating for a food type. The labels themselves will look similar to the stickers already used by manufacturers to detail the salt, sugar, fat and calorie content of foodstuffs, with each one being given a rating of A* to G, as well as a red, amber or green colour. The system will initially be trialled in the UK by brands including M&S, Costa Coffee and the organic food delivery company Abel & Cole and will include products with both good and bad ratings to see whether people change their buying habits. Should the labels be successful, it is hoped they will also be rolled out across Europe in 2022.
3. The UK and the rest of Europe
The project will be overseen by Foundation Earth, a new European non profit which launched the idea to help people navigate the subject of food sustainability and provide some clarity on the often contradictory information out there. Foundation Earth is a potentially significant post-Brexit collaboration between the UK and EU and is backed by governments on either side of the Channel, as well as major European supermarkets and food giant Nestlé. The organisation is aiming for a full European rollout of the rating system in 2022.
The launch of Foundation Earth is a very significant moment for the European food industry. It will bring about a credible and clear front-of-pack environmental labelling system on food products right across the continent.Andy Zynga, chief executive of EIT Food, the European Commission’s food innovation programme
4. Support for the project
Supporters of the scheme argue that transparency around the sustainability of foodstuffs will encourage supply chains to become more environmentally friendly, an essential requirement if countries are to reduce their emissions enough to meet legally-binding climate targets. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the food industry accounts for 37% of the world’s greenhouse gases, a figure which is expected to increase by another 30% by 2050 if we carry on as we are at the moment. Something needs to be done to change this and make it easier for people to shop and eat sustainably, and this new labelling system could do just that.