Denmark proposes carbon label for food

The Danish government is assessing new regulations that would require food manufacturers and retailers to put “climate impact” labels on their products.

“We want consumers to get a tool when they stand in the supermarket, which can help them assess how much climate impact the product has,” climate minister Lars Christian Lilleholt told news outlets in the country.

The proposal is part of the government’s 38-point plan for a “greener future”, published this week.

The announcement came in the same week that the International Panel on Climate Change offered what some have called a “final warning” on the deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions required to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees.

Food’s carbon footprint is on a par with transport. A scheme that provides an indication of the climate impact of products therefore seems a sensible idea, but it is far from straightforward.

Lilleholt acknowledged there will be a number of challenges to overcome, not least how to align any new scheme with nutritional information.

Morten Høyer is director at the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, which has been working on a climate label at EU level. “A soda might only have a small impact on the climate, but it will not sustain you,” he said.

Earlier this year, researchers at Oxford University and the Swiss agricultural research institute, Agroscope, created the most comprehensive database yet on the environmental impacts of nearly 40,000 farms and 1,600 processors, packaging types and retailers.

They found considerable differences in environmental impact between producers of the same product.

For example, high-impact beef producers create 105kg of CO2 equivalents, which is 12 times greater than low-impact producers. High-impact farms also use 370m2 of land per 100 grams of protein, or 50 times more than those with low impacts.

“Two things that look the same in the shops can have extremely different impacts on the planet,” said Joseph Poore, from the Department of Zoology and the School of Geography and Environment at Oxford University.

Poore said new technology to monitor agriculture is needed, as well as environmental labels that allowed consumers to compare low and high impact products.

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