IGD’s plan to unite the industry around a single front-of-pack eco-label has met a furious backlash from eco campaigners, who claim it relies on “dumbed down” data and ignores key environmental and animal welfare concerns.
A raft of groups have written to environment secretary Steve Barclay complaining that the body’s proposals for a fridge-freezer-style system combining an A-E scoring system with traffic light colours ignores their views.
It claims if adopted the IGD model would lead to confusion among consumers and serious environmental harm.
IGD formally presented its proposals for mandatory labels to Defra this week, along with other rival plans, which it says will provide consumers with a “comprehensive” guide to the impact of products on water, land and climate change.
However, groups including the Sustainable Food Trust, Compassion in World Farming and Clear, a consortium of more than 40 farming and food groups, claim the proposals, developed in talks under Defra’s new Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP), have ignored their recommendations and are biased towards industry “mass production” techniques.
“While some of our organisations have been consulted, the outputs do not reflect our input and if enacted could confuse and mislead consumers and potentially create unintended environmental outcomes,” says the letter.
“IGD’s recommendations provide significant potential for industry domination of the governance model and its steering advisors.
“The food industry should not be allowed to self-regulate on an issue of such significant societal importance.
“We urge you to ensure the development of the rules, regulations, and governance of environmental labelling should be led by the government with cross-sector co-operation between the government, industry and representatives from the third sector.
“The IGD initiative has been led by major food industry businesses. While other organisations have been consulted, crucial points have been overlooked.”
The letter also claim’s IGD’s proposals, which it has described as “ambitious”, are not comprehensive enough.
“In aiming for harmonisation, the methodology has ‘dumbed down’ the data behind the label scoring to just four basic criteria that fall far short of enabling consumers to understand the environmental impacts of their food, or to enable them to make meaningful choices,” it says.
The groups claim the proposed system fails to reflect areas such as biodiversity, chemical pollution and pesticides, and is “inherently biased to deliver positive outcomes for industrial and intensified production”.
“The methodology may well bias against products that have been produced in ways that reflect the government’s own sustainable farming practice incentives.”
Animal welfare, claim the groups, is another key missing element in IGD’s proposed label.
“Any measure of animal welfare is absent,” it fumes. “If animal welfare is not included in an eco-label, it would need an additional welfare label to be present concurrently to enable consumers to make meaningful choices.”
The Grocer understands there has been a behind-the-scenes power struggle over the development of the new label, with several major groups proposing rivals systems.
As well as IGD, government climate change expert Wrap and the AI-driven environmental insights platform Mondra also presented their plans to Defra this week.
It is understood the FDTP will make a final decision next year on which scheme gets the go-ahead, with some sources calling for a system which combines various different schemes.
IGD CEO Sarah Bradbury defended its plans. “There is a strong consensus that without a co-ordinated approach to environmental labelling, there is a risk of confusing consumers and adding complexity and cost for businesses and supply chains,” she said.
“With any topic such as this, where there is significant complexity and emerging science, there will be a range of views.
“We’ve spoken to hundreds of people from industry, academia, life-cycle assessment experts, nutritionists, NGOs and more, and received over 350 different pieces of feedback.
“While we are unlikely to see a consensus in terms of the recommendations, we are confident they are based on extensive consultation and rigorous evidence.”