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  • Should Food Have Environmental Labelling?

Should Food Have Environmental Labelling?

Jun 19 2018 Read 823 Times

A new study has revealed that products which sit side by side on a supermarket shelf may have drastically different environmental impacts. Conducted by Oxford University in conjunction with Agroscope (a Swiss agricultural research institute), the paper finds that the various approaches to production of the same product can result in vastly different environmental outcomes.

As a result, the authors suggest that it may be necessary to introduce environmental labelling on such products, perhaps accompanied by attendant taxes and subsidies from the government. In this manner, producers could be incentivised to make their goods more sustainably and consumers could be better informed as to how the choices they make affect the planet.

By the numbers

The collaborative study assessed the environmental impact of 40 major foodstuffs from almost 40,000 farms and 1,600 processors, packagers and retailers. From this research, the team were able to build up the most comprehensive database to date on how different methods of production affect the environment.

For example, the diet upon which livestock are fed was shown to have a huge effect on the greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by the cows in question. Beef producers with the poorest sustainability scores used a whopping 370m2 of land per gram of protein, resulting in 105kg of CO2 equivalent emissions. The most sustainable producers used just 7.4m2 and produced 8.75kg of CO2 equivalent to achieve the same results.

Surprising results

While the methane emissions from dairy farming and agriculture are thought to be some of the chief contributors to global warming, the study showed that aquaculture can actually be more harmful to the environment than cows. For instance, a single pint of beer could result in thrice the emissions and four times the land use of another pint, depending on the geographical location, ingredients and method used to make it.

“Two things that look the same in the shops can have very different impacts on the planet. We currently don't know this when we make choices about what to eat,” explains Joseph Poore, lead author on the study. “Further, this variability isn't fully recognised in strategies and policy aimed at reducing the impacts of farmers.”

Keeping the people informed

The introduction of environmental labelling on these products would allow the public to make an informed decision when choosing their shopping list. This would have a knock-on effect further down the line, as well; retailers might respond to shopping habits by sourcing their produce from sustainable producers, and all farms should gravitate towards a more environmentally-rounded policy in order to stay competitive.

In this respect, the introduction of environmentally labelling, accompanied by financial initiatives from the government, could be beneficial for all involved. The producer could gain a competitive edge over his rivals, the retailer and consumer could make more conscientious decisions and the planet could be subjected to less undue exploitation of its natural resources.

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