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Sustainability Roundtable to reduce green label overload

By Jess Halliday , 27-Feb-2009

The priority of the new Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Roundtable is to reduce the confusing array of different labels and statements appearing on food packages but fostering agreement on scientific assessment of environmental impact.

The SCP roundtable is envisaged as a food sector-wide contribution to the EU’s ambitions on sustainability. The official launch will take place at a stakeholder event in April.

But the founding members have said today said that facilitating a common position on assessment will be an important first step, to reduce consumer confusion.

“We want to put an end to consumers seeing inconsistent environmental information on products,” said Pekka Pesonsen, secretary general of Copa-Cogeca, one of the organisations currently participating.

“Our new cooperation will bring together initiatives from across the food chain, promote their foundation on sound scientific evidence and translate into real progress in moving towards a coherent approach across the EU.”

At present labels, statements and declarations tend to assess different environmental impacts with different methodologies – such as carbon footprint, agricultural practices, transport, packaging, etc.

But the partners believe the information can be confusing, especially when it is over-simplified, scientifically unreliable, or based on inconsistent methodologies in different EU member states.

The effect can be to undermine consumer trust, lead to accusations of greenwashing, and even stand in the way of aiding real environmental improvement.

Viewpoints

At the CIAA Congress in Brussels in November, the formation of the roundtable was a big talking point.

There, several speakers expressed the view that there are too many different environmental labelling systems and schemes in use.

Christine Cros, head of the eco-design and sustainable consumption department at the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) said: “Today there are too many labels. Consumers don’t understand what logos mean. Some are bad and some are good.”

But Annemieke Wijn, a board member of Rainforest Alliance, which allows forms adhering to its criteria on conserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable livelihoods to use its frog-shaped seal, does not agree.

She said: “The issue of multiple labels is not such an issue for consumers, only those who write about them.”

Participation

The roundtable aims to bring together farmers and their suppliers, agricultural traders, food and drink producers, packaging suppliers, recovery organisations and civil society representatives – and to stimulate their participation on an equal footing.

The roundtable will be supported by the United Nations Environment Programme and the European Environment Agency.

A number of umbrella organisations are already participating, including the CIAA, which represents the food and drink industries of the EU, and farmer and agri-cooperative body Copa-Cogeca.

Consumer groups and retailers have been invited to join, and membership is also open to other food sector organisations “conditional on relevant expertise, active engagement, and commitment to the objectives of the roundtable”.

More information on participation is available from the CIAA Secretariat c.stadion ‘at’ ciaa.eu.

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