FSA science head calls for eco-labelling on food

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Urgent calls have been made for eco-labelling on food, but will it sway customers?
Urgent calls have been made for eco-labelling on food, but will it sway customers?

Related tags COP26 Sustainability Labelling

Urgent progress is needed to support a unified eco-labelling system for food in UK, according to the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) chief scientific adviser.

Professor Robin May called for urgent collaboration between business, academia and government to work an internationally agreed set of standards for eco-labelling, or for what type of data should be measured.

“Transforming the food system into one that is fully sustainable relies on a unified approach to data sharing and food labelling that is both transparent and accurate,”​ he told ITV News.

"The eco-labelling of foods, for example, can enable consumers to compare the environmental footprint of different products and enable them to make choices about the impact this has on their diet.”

Shared ideology

May’s comments ahead of the second week of COP26 echoed those of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ chief scientific advisor, Gideon Henderson.

However, Henderson pointed out that – at this time – there was not a lot of evidence to suggest just how effective eco-labelling actually is.

While older generations may not be so swayed by environmental labels, Henderson believed there was potential for younger consumers to take these messages on board and allow them to influence their buying habits.

“It’s a bit like the Wild West though and it’s threatening to become insufficiently regulated,”​​ Henderson added. “We need to get on top of this and work out how to certify and how to have a unified system for environmental labelling for food stuffs.”​​

Visibility of labels online

Henderson also highlighted the challenge presented by online shopping – if a consumer doesn’t go to the store for their food, there is little change they will even see eco-labels on their products before they buy them.

May added: “With many large food businesses already developing their own ‘in-house’ sustainability labelling schemes, there is an even greater need for consistency to reduce the risk of misinformation and consumer confusion.

“If we act swiftly and decisively to create an overarching system underpinned by transparent, auditable metrics, we will be able to set the food system on the fast track to sustainability. Consumer choice would be enhanced, businesses incentivised to ensure sustainable production systems and food manufacturing encouraged to invest in innovative, carbon-neutral technologies.”

Meanwhile, a voluntary e-label scheme has been developed by European wine and spirits trade bodies Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins and Spirits Europe enabling wine and spirit producers to communicate nutritional, calorie and allergen information via QR codes. Richard Horwell – owner of Brand Relations – is sceptical.

Related topics Legal Packaging & Labelling

Related news

Show more

1 comment

To be meaningful post-purchase storage and usage must be considered

Posted by Karin Goodburn,

It is widely accepted that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are having a negative impact on the environment.

Energy and other impacts of post-purchase transport, storage (chilled vs frozen vs ambient) and food usage (ready to eat vs microwaved vs conventional oven & type) must be considered in labelling, and these can have major impacts on the overall conclusion.

For the chilled food sector, we believe that carbon footprint labelling of individual foods is misguided and potentially misleading to consumers. We favour the carbon footprinting of the business making foods which we believe to be far more relevant to identifying and addressing areas for carbon reduction than carbon footprint labelling.

Some of the reasons behind our thinking are due to the complexity of the chilled prepared food manufacturing sector, which makes carbon footprint labelling by food problematic.

For example:

* a single site may be producing up to 100 SKUs (stock keeping units, i.e. products) each day, each of which has numerous raw materials/ingredients, sourced globally and year-round
* the commercial life spans of chilled food recipes are typically very short, with most being less than one year
* many chilled prepared foods are also seasonal, with a short window of marketing opportunity
* the same raw material can be sourced from different countries dependent on seasonality and availability, e.g. produce
* some components, e.g. seasonings, may have a large number of subcomponents, e.g. spices and herbs
* the same product can be prepared using different cooking techniques at point of consumption, e.g. microwave, conventional oven (gas, electric or fan-assisted).

Given this, the calculation of the carbon density of any given chilled food will be complicated, time-consuming, resource-hungry and expensive. In addition, it will be confusing for consumers if the carbon footprint labelling of a food changes because of ingredient and/or sourcing changes, or because of different point of consumption preparation methods.

CFA, therefore, favours a streamlined approach and believes that within BSI and Carbon Trust activity there should be an opportunity for businesses that have made a commitment to reduce their carbon footprint to be recognised as opposed to each product carrying carbon footprint labelling.


Report abuse

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast