The Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Roundtable will be officially launched in April, but its founding stakeholders have already planned out the priorities. The first step will be to develop a common methodology to assess environmental impact of food products throughout the lifecycle.
Once that has been established, attention will be turned to communicating green products’ performance to consumers, and on continuously improving their impacts.
Christophe Tamandl, director of environmental affairs at the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), told FoodNavigator.com that the stakeholders are not planning on inventing an entirely new assessment method, since a plethora of good methods already exist and more are in development.
The problem is that existing methods tend to take in part of the food chain in isolation. For instance, the UK’s Carbon Trust looks at cutting carbon emissions, but not at issues such as water use or biodiversity.
“We need to ensure they are all around the table,” Tamandl told FoodNavigator.com.
The stakeholders plan to take stock of existing and emerging methodologies, identify any gaps in the lifecycle, and look at plugging them.
It is important to take a holistic, life-cycle approach to ensure that the impacts from one part of the food chain are not passed on to another.
Moreover, once the general approach is developed, it will need to be adapted for different food categories. For instance, sugar and milk have quite different impacts that need to be considered.
Single market concern
Tamandl underscored the need for a uniform methodology before a coherent consumer-facing communication strategy can be put in place.
He said the roundtable idea “sprang from the fact that we are seeing a lot of initiatives in Europe on communicating environmental performance”.
“The situation we see is an increasing desire by food chain players to provide information – but the way in which it is provided is usually very inconsistent.
“There is a desire for information, but no reliable scientific method to determine what it is.”
For CIAA, this poses a problem as it can lead to consumer confusion. Where different member states – and even different retailers within member states – use different green labelling schemes based on different criteria, this poses problems.
“This is not favourable for industry, as it is operating in a common market in Europe”. The upshot is a complex labelling landscape that can be costly to navigate.