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Study Calls for Robust Science For Environmental Labelling of Food

28 October 2010 Hertfordshire, University of

Environmental labeling of food needs to be based on robust, scientific principles if it is to be effective, says a University of Hertfordshire researcher.

Dr Kathy Lewis, one of the authors of the report, Effective Approaches to Environmental Labeling of Food Products, which explored the effectiveness of environmental labeling, claims that more work is needed on current practices for environmental labeling to bring it up to an adequate scientific level.

“We need a joined-up approach and an industry standard based on robust scientific principles,” said Dr Lewis.

The report, which was commissioned by the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and carried out by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire’s Agricultural and Environmental Research Unit, in collaboration with the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) and the Food Ethics Council (FEC),  explored the effectiveness of current environmental labeling of food as a means of encouraging people to work towards reducing the negative environmental impacts of food production and consumption.

It compared the pros and cons of different existing schemes for environmental labeling of food on industry, consumers and the environment.

It found that a label for industry would have a limited role to play compared with other policy options including regulation; and investigated the potential consequences for industry of launching such a label.

The researchers also found that existing consumer ‘eco-labels’ need a considerable amount of scientific development before a true “omni-label”, designed to give customers a complete overview of a product's environmental and social impact could be a reality.

They also found that at the moment the majority of these labels do not directly infer that any environmental benefits have been achieved.

Dr Kathy Lewis at the University of Hertfordshire’s Agricultural and Environmental Research Unit said: “The majority of food ‘eco-labels’ that are currently in use are based on the promotion of best-practice and do not measure emissions or impacts in any way, mainly due to cost and the scientific practicality.

“A true ‘omni-label’ would give detailed information about highly scientific topics such as air emissions, water quality and biodiversity; we need to find a standard, simpler way of communicating this to the consumer. We have made these recommendations to DEFRA and we expect these findings will be used to inform Government policy.”

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