Food eco labels not robust enough to be meaningful

02nd November 2010 - Fine Cut

Product labels found on food, drink, electrical products and furniture state the items environmentally friendly credentials but are often confused or misleading, a new study has found.

The research undertaken on behalf of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) found that too many of the labels failed to guarantee that the farmer or the retailer had mitigated any harmful effects on the environment. Instead, it was found the printed labels simply note that the item's producer had "followed best practice."

The report criticised most schemes for using a single label as opposed to a scale or colour code which could be used to inform customers how good or bad the product is for the environment. The research analysed the effectiveness of current environmental labelling of food as a way of encouraging people to work towards reducing the negative environmental impacts of food production and consumption

In total 68 labels were looked at from across the world, 22 for food and drink and 46 non food schemes, It found that the labels, nearly all of which are voluntary schemes are less effective than legislation.

Dr Kathy Lewis the head of the University of Hertfordshire's Agricultural and Environmental Research Unit is author of the report. She told the Daily Telegraph: "With most of these labels, providing you follow the rules and pay your membership fee, you are in. But consumers are not always aware that not having the label doesn't mean that you have failed. It just means you haven't paid your membership fee."

"And products either have the label or they don't. It's never clear whether the product has sailed over the minimum requirements or just bumped over. It would be a good idea to help consumers distinguish between different products," she added.

Defra is expected to give its view on the findings by the end of the year. A spokesman said: "We'll be considering the final report on environmental labelling on food before deciding the best way forward."

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