Yoghurts, cheese and processed fish could soon carry a new environmental logo if plans to extend the EU’s Ecolabel to food come to fruition.
The label, launched in 1992, is currently used only for non-food items, but the EC has always said it wants to extend it to food, pending the results of a feasibility study.
That study, conducted for the EC by Oakdene Hollins, the University of Göttingen and the FIBL institute, has now been published, and it suggests there could be a case for using the Ecolabel for food.
Research had shown there was a gap in the current food “labelling landscape” that the Ecolabel could fill, the report’s aupicturethors claimed. “Most labels currently only concentrate on the environmental impacts of primary production and not, or only to a limited extent, the processing lifecycle stage.”
By contrast, the Ecolabel took into account the entire lifecycle, making it particularly suitable for highly processed products, the report added.
However, before the Ecolabel scheme could be extended to food, a set of credible environmental standards would have to be established, the report said.
This was likely to be a significant stumbling block, claimed NFU head of food chain unit Lee Woodger. “With the EU organic label, at least you had existing rules, regulations and organic practices to go on,” he said.
There was also a danger consumers could be confused about what the Ecolabel stood for vis-à-vis organic, Woodger warned.
There is no timeline suggested in the report, but Woodger said the complexity of defining a new set of environmental criteria meant “we’re a hell of a long way off from seeing this implemented”.
While efforts were being made to address these issues, the EC should also explore alternatives to extending the Ecolabel to food, such as amending the European organic label to cover the environmental impacts of processing, the report’s authors said.