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“The more eco-labels are developed, the greater the risk of proliferation”
Denmark 'first country in the world' to develop its own climate label for food. Denmark is investing DKK 9 Million (Euro 1.2 Million) in the development of a government-run climate label for food.
On 16 April, Denmark's Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Rasmus Prehn, announced plans to publicly fund the development of a climate label for food. A total of DKK 9 Million has been allocated to the project this year, with a proposal expected by the end of 2022.
Danes want to eat more climate-friendly foods, but don't always know which products are the 'green choice' when making purchasing decisions in-store, suggested Prehn when announcing the plan.
“Therefore, Denmark must now have a state-controlled climate label. It must be one unified brand that consumers can trust so we can avoid a forest of brands that just confuse”.
The government is now setting up a working group, to which all relevant actors will have the opportunity to contribute. Results will be revealed 'before Christmas', so that Denmark can become the 'first country in the world' to have a 'state-controlled' climate label, he continued. "We are at the forefront of the global scene, showing the way forward in the green transition."
A risk of proliferation?
Environmental labelling is tipped to be an important tool in helping empower consumers to make more sustainable food choices. As part of its pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the European Commission is preparing to table a sustainable food labelling framework (See related articles below).
In the meantime, an increasing number of environmental labels are entering the market, from Eco-Score to Planet-Score and a new labeling scheme developed by Foundation Earth.
Eco-Score gives food products and ready meals a score out of 100, with colour-coding (from dark green to red] and letters (A to E) for consumer ease. Products that score 0-20 are given an ‘E' (red), 20-40 receive a 'D' (orange], 40-60 receive a 'C (yellow), 60-80 receive a 'B'(light green] and the top score of 80-100 receive an 'A'(dark green).
How this final score is calculated, however, is more complicated. In a mathematic equation, Eco-Score = life cycle assessment (LCA) + bonus points - points deducted.
LCA is a technique for assessing the environmental aspects associated with a product over its life cycle. From cradle to grave, LCA addresses the extraction of raw materials associated with the product, as well as its production and distribution of energy throughout its use, reuse, and final deposit.
Eco-Score relies on category-specific LCA from ADEME's (French Agency for Ecological Transition] Agribalyse project; ADEME has evaluated the environmental impact of at least 2,500 categories of products.
According to EC02 Initiative, LCA does not factor in all relevant criteria in its assessment. Therefore, once the category-specific LCA is determined, other criteria are assessed and points are added and/or deducted from the original LCA score.
Where LCA testing lacks, however, according to Planet-Score's developers, is addressing other elements associated with sustainability, notably: pesticides, climate, biodiversity and animal welfare. These, they say, are either covered minimally, poorly, or not at all, in LCA analyses.
Where Planet-Score sets itself apart, therefore, is incorporation of these elements. The labelling scheme addresses the use of pesticides, taking into account their impact on human and planetary health, as well as their presence in food.
Climate is another element integrated into Planet-Score, notably factoring in soil carbon stores and greenhouse gas emissions. Biodiversity is also accounted for, addressing impacts associated with agricultural practices, as well as the size of agricultural plots, and the presence of hedges etc.
And finally, Planet-Score incorporates animal welfare standards, because different animal rearing methods can impact the environment in different ways, noted the cohort. The result is a composite format that presents these four indicators, as well as an aggregated score.
Foundation Earth says it has brought together the world's two leading systems for measuring the environmental impact of an individual food product and communicating the information clearly and simply to consumers via a front-of-pack score.
The pilot, which is a learning phase and open for development, currently assesses a food product's impact using four key indicators - carbon, water use, water pollution and biodiversity. Carbon is weighted at 49% of the overall grade, while the other topics account for 17% each. This grade is then communicated to consumers as a letter (A to G) and a traffic light system.
The more eco-labels are developed, the greater the risk of proliferation, however. Minister Prehn referenced this problem - of having too many competing labels that can confuse consumers - in his announcement.
Governments may believe the solution to proliferation lies in developing one harmonized label, however it has previously been suggested that in fact this does the opposite: it adds yet another eco-label to the mix.
The answer could well tie in making a label mandatory. However, the European Commission will not allow Denmark to demand all foods carry a climate label, and it will therefore remain voluntary.
Paul Holmbeck from Holmbeck EcoConsult believes he may have found a solution. Talking to social media, the consultant and IFOAM World Board Member argued that retailers can demand the new label be used on all products.
"Otherwise, the products with high emissions, where consumers are most in need of information, will go unlabeled."
Responding to consumer demand
Denmark has a history of incorporating environmental sustainability into government initiatives.
Last year, the country included C02 emissions into its dietary guidelines for the first time, resulting in recommendations to eat more legumes and vegetables, and less meat. The Climate Council estimates that by following these guidelines, an average Dane aged 6-64 can reduce their climate footprint by 31-54%. Both initiatives feed into the government's plan to reduce its climate footprint by 70% by 2030.
They also respond to consumer desire to make a difference, according to food culture organization Madkulturen, which estimates the majority of Danes believe that it is important to combat climate change through what we eat: six out of 10 would like to eat more climate-friendly foods.
And it may be possible to do so, with the right tools. Of the 7 tonnes of CO2 emitted by Danes from private consumption, around 2 tonnes come from food and beverages, according to the Danish Energy Agency,
At the same time, most Danes (three out of four] find it difficult to see what climate footprint a food product has. According to the Danish Consumer Council, just two out of approximately 1,100 consumers surveyed can correctly rank eight ordinary foods according to how much they burden the planet.
Denmark's strategy has been welcomed by the retail sector, on the condition the labelling scheme is credible.
De Samvirkende Købmænd (the Federation of Retail Grocers in Denmark], a trade organization representing supermarkets and grocers across the country, said it has three requirements for climate labelling: “credibility, credibility, credibility”.
"Therefore, it requires an unprecedented thorough preparation, where all parameters are optimally taken into account e.g., also production conditions and transportation before a brand is launched” said John Wager, CEO of De Samvirkende Købmænd.
"Average considerations must not make the label on specific goods more misleading than indicative, and the label must have broad support from both suppliers and retailers.”
Labelling: The Commission is moving towards mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labels