IGD Environment eco label

The government has scrapped plans to introduce a mandatory approach to eco-labels for the food and drink industry in the latest climbdown on the environment under prime minister Rishi Sunak.

A report published today claimed there was “limited” evidence such labels had an impact on consumer behaviour or that they encouraged food and drink companies to reduce their carbon footprint.

As well as dropping the idea of government-backed labels, the Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP), which was set up under Defra and the DHSC in response to Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy, has also scaled back ambitions to standardise a system of measuring and reporting for Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions.

The FDTP was meant to provide greater transparency on the food and drink industry’s environmental and health impacts. Its members include supermarkets, leading suppliers, hospitality and online companies, scientists and government officials.

Its aims included helping the government to “standardise the methodology and data sources used for measuring and reporting Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions of food and drink”.

At one stage Defra was planning to announce plans for all big food and drink companies to report on supply chain emissions, ahead of the COP28 conference in Dubai in November.

Sources insisted despite the difficult political backdrop the body had brought about “unparalleled co-operation” between food companies to agree a way forward of harmonisation on areas such as carbon measurement, data sharing and product level data reporting.

However, Defra said it would be down to the Department for Business & Trade (DBT), which is carrying out a wider review of carbon reporting, to decide on a mandatory system of reporting. It is not yet clear if that will go as far as including Scope 3 emissions, or if it will be finished before the election.

Government experts Wrap will also bring out guidance for the industry on Scope 3 reporting later this year, though that will only be voluntary.

Another key FDTP aim had been to help the government draw up a mandatory approach to eco-labels, with the body having received presentations from a number of bodies including the IGD, which has proposed a new a fridge-freezer-style system combining an A-E scoring system with traffic light colours.

Former PM Boris Johnson had described eco-labels as an opportunity for the UK to wrestle back control from previously EU-dictated labelling.

However, today’s roadmap says: “The government has no plans at present to introduce a mandatory eco-label, nor to endorse an existing or new eco-labelling scheme.

“Currently, there is limited evidence that eco-labelling has an impact on in-store consumer and business behaviour.”

The Grocer has previously revealed how FDTP talks had revealed major concerns over the robustness of eco-labels, despite more than 20 different voluntary food and drink labels operating in the UK, leading to fears over “greenwashing”.

Sources said the lack of consistent methodology and availability of data meant it was not possible for the government to endorse a system, while plans for the government to hold a consultation on eco-labels have been shelved.

Despite the lack of progress on mandatory targets, sources insisted the work of the FDTP had seen an “unparalleled level of co-creation” between the industry and government that would provide a blueprint for the next government.

“The foundation blocks have been built on measurement and, from the IGD, on labelling,” they said. “In effect it’s a political decision on timing and it’s not going to be down to this government.

“But the roadmap has moved the issues on so that the politicians cannot hide behind the fact that there isn’t any data any more and likewise the industry can’t say it hasn’t been consulted or been involved in these big discussions.

“Compared to other really disastrous consultations, such as that on EPR, this at least lays a blueprint for the future and has demonstrated that the industry can work together with Defra.

“This roadmap is the product of a year of close collaboration between government, industry and many stakeholders who have generously shared their time and expertise,” said Judith Batchelar, co-chair of the FDTP eco working group.

“Our aim is to highlight how food and farming data reporting could be easier and fairer for businesses of all sizes across the supply chain, starting with farmers. This is a crucial step in the sector’s journey towards net zero and giving consumers information they can trust.”

Meanwhile, the FDTP has also been working on plans for a system of health reporting set to include reporting on the percentage sales of HFSS foods, percentage sales of fruit & veg, and percentage sales of types of proteins (animal and plant).

They are due to be published by health minister Andrea Leadsom next month, though health campaigners are calling for a future Labour government to insist on mandatory targets.