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Plans for universal eco-label revealed

A harmonised eco-labelling scheme for UK food and drink businesses has moved a step closer to becoming reality after the body leading the scheme published its latest set of recommendations.

IGD has been working since 2021 to develop a consistent approach to environmental labelling for the UK following a proliferation of competing schemes in recent years.

This week it presented plans for an eco-label combining red, amber and green lights with an A-E rating system.

The overall framework for the system is based on the concept of planetary boundaries which measures the impact the earth can tolerate for a given environmental indicator. Products will receive an overall score based on a life cycle assessment approach covering climate change, water use, water quality and land use impact categories.

The industry-funded charity hopes the introduction of a dedicated environmental label will help nudge customer behaviour towards more sustainable products.

Its recommendations are intended to inform the UK government’s planned consultation on eco-labelling in 2024, with IGD stressing that the methodology will be subject to change as new scientific evidence becomes available. It also plans to develop an open access database of representative environmental indicators.

Foods such as red meat which generally have a high carbon footprint are likely to fare badly under the new system. IGD CEO Sarah Bradbury told The Grocer: “Some people get very upset. If you’re in red meat it’s going to be a difficult label on your product but there are ways of improving it.”

The proposal has faced criticism from some NGOs for being overly simplistic, narrow in scope and driven largely by the food industry. Clear, the Sustainable Food Trust and Compassion in World Farming have written to Defra secretary of state Steve Barclay to express concerns about the recommendations.

“Consumers wish to be equipped to understand more fully how their food has been produced and it is right that the government is considering how food labelling can help,” said Fidelity Weston, chair of Clear. “However, a simplistic and narrow approach is not appropriate. It is crucial that the wide range of stakeholders involved in our food system are included. There is a great deal going on to support this happening yet neglecting this broad range of expertise and experience by taking a single industry-driven approach will fall far short of delivering a meaningful and robust basis for making sustainability claims for food products.”