Sustainability standards in the spotlight: ‘Still taking baby steps’

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Eco-labels are often a way for food companies to demonstrate that they are fulfilling their promises, Sahota said
Eco-labels are often a way for food companies to demonstrate that they are fulfilling their promises, Sahota said
A single, unifying sustainability standard would be helpful for consumers – but it’s a long way off, says Organic Monitor president and founder Amarjit Sahota.

Sahota told FoodNavigator that eco-labels have proliferated in recent years, covering a range of issues from animal welfare, to fair trade, to agricultural production methods, and biodiversity. This has left many food companies wondering which to include, or whether to just give up on adding such logos to their packaging at all.

“What would be great to see is maybe having a sustainability standard or criteria that would cover various impacts, including sustainable farming, animal welfare, biodiversity and social impacts,”​ he said. “It would be nice to have one sustainability logo or index that represents those separate threads.”

He added that some certification schemes did attempt to encompass the entire concept of sustainability, but these tended to focus on single ingredients, such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or Bonsucra in the sugar sector.

“The challenge is to do it for a multi-ingredient product​,” he said. “I think they are still taking baby steps at the moment.”

Some of the best known single-ingredient standards cover sustainably sourced fish and seafood, soy, palm oil, cocoa and sugar – but what should a food manufacturer do if they aim to source all of their ingredients from certified producers? This single-ingredient approach may not be realistic when it comes to labelling.

“I think on the one hand the manufacturers are getting a lot of choice, so some might go for the easiest standard to adopt. But the question is, what impact is this having on consumers​?” said Sahota. “…To make it even worse, some companies have come up with their own schemes and put their own logo on.”

However, established eco-labels are still attractive to companies, particularly for manufacturers who have made sustainability pledges – and those who would like to tap into the premiums often associated with certain certifications, such as Fairtrade and organic.

“It’s a way of demonstrating commitment,”​ Sahota said.

Organic Monitor is the organiser of the Sustainable Foods Summit, taking place on June 4-5 in Amsterdam. To find out more about the event, click here​.

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