Germany mulls introduction of mandatory climate and NutriScore labels

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Klöckner and WBAE Chairman Harald Grethe BMEL/Mewes
Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Klöckner and WBAE Chairman Harald Grethe BMEL/Mewes

Related tags: Germany, Label, NutriScore, Carbon label

An influential advisory group in Germany has urged the government to introduce mandatory climate labels on foodstuffs to display the greenhouse gas emissions of products, as well as for a mandatory roll out of the as yet voluntary NutriScore labelling scheme.

A report by Germany's Scientific Advisory Board on Agricultural Policy, Food and Consumer Health Protection (WBAE) has called on "a comprehensive transformation of the food system​" designed to “promote more sustainable food consumption​”.   

Its recommendations include climate labels on foodstuffs to display the greenhouse gas emissions of products and a mandatory roll out of the NutriScore labelling scheme which was officially introduced in Germany last year. It also demanded “less and better​” consumption of animal products, taxes on all sugar-sweetened beverages and restrictions on adverts for unhealthy foods targeting children.

The WBAE’s report complained the current food environment in Germany was “not conducive to sustainable food consumption”​ and that the country lagged behind other countries “in developing and implementing a food policy that addresses these sustainability goals in a coherent and consistent manner”.

WBAE Chairman Harald Grethe said: “More decisive policy intervention is required to help consumers make more sustainable food choices.”

The report added it believed current food policies place too much weight on consumers’ own responsibility for sustainable food choices.

“Such a low-key approach to policy sends the wrong signal in a complex policy field that is heavily influenced by lobbying activities”​, said agricultural economist Achim Spiller. “What is required is a dedicated food and nutrition policy where the government takes a more prominent role.”

It went on to say the influence of the food environment on consumers’ food choices is often underestimated in the public debate. Health psychologist and report co-author Britta Renner said: “Promoting more sustainable food choices across the whole spectrum of society requires a fair framework encompassing provision of solid and comprehensible information, easy access to healthy foods, more food choice options and price incentives which make sustainable choices financially more attractive for the consumer.”

Germany’s Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Klöckner hinted that the federal government would look to introduce the group’s recommendations. She said: “Many of the suggestions and recommendations are a tailwind for the nutrition policy of our ministry. It is about healthy nutrition in all phases of life. We support consumers in this - with information, clear labelling or reductions in salt, sugar and fat in ready-to-eat foods. But especially when it comes to protecting children and adolescents, we also have to intervene to regulate.

The Federal Ministry of Food has already taken up many proposals from the Advisory Board. These include the introduction of NutriScore, the implementation of quality standards in school catering, enacting modern breeding methods usable for sustainable agriculture and plans to significantly reduce food waste along the entire production and supply chain by 2030 including halving it in retail and at consumer level.

Among the recommendations:

1) The introduction of free and high-quality catering in day-care centres and schools catering via a federal investment campaign called “Best Canteen”.

2) 'Less and better' consumption of animal products. The current VAT rate concession on animal products will be abolished and a mandatory climate label for all foodstuffs introduced.  

3) An excise tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages.

4) Adverts for unhealthy foods targeting children to be restricted

5) Small portion sizes to be made available in out-of-home catering and free tap water be provided in public places

6) The potential for reformulation of products to be ‘realistically assessed and exploited’

7) To advance the promotion of organic farming and to develop more sustainable farming systems.

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