Europe-wide eco-label scheme set for launch in 2022 as industry joins forces to launch pilot

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

A mock-up of how the eco-labels will appear. Source: Foundation Earth
A mock-up of how the eco-labels will appear. Source: Foundation Earth

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Global food giants Nestle and Tyson Foods have joined supermarkets and food and environmental scientists to form a new non-profit organisation that will issue front-of-pack environmental scores on food products throughout Europe.

Foundation Earth is the brainchild of Denis Lynn, the Northern Irish food entrepreneur who died in May 2021 following a freak quadbike accident.

The UK’s M&S, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op have joined Spanish supermarket Eroski on the Foundation’s industry advisory group to “explore the potential for environmental labelling on food products and to support Foundation Earth’s ambition to help build a more sustainable food industry”​ and give consumers “clear and credible front-of-pack environmental labelling system on food products right across the continent”.

The Foundation will launch a pilot later this year in September that will use the traffic-light style system by advisory company Mondra. This pilot launch will run in parallel with an intensive nine-month development programme, supported by Nestlé, that will combine the Mondra method with another measuring system developed by the EU-funded food innovation initiative EIT Food. The hope is to combine the best of both systems to produce an optimum and fully automated system for use across the UK and EU by Autumn 2022.

Foundation Earth says it has brought together the world’s two leading systems for measuring the environmental impact of an individual food product and communicating the information clearly and simply to consumers via a front-of-pack score.

The pilot, which is a learning phase and open for development, currently assesses a food product’s impact using four key indicators -- carbon, water use, water pollution and biodiversity. Carbon is weighted at 49% of the overall grade, while the other topics account for 17% each. This grade is then communicated to consumers as a letter (A to G) and a traffic light system.

The move comes in response to consumer demand for sustainable products. The UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change has warned the food industry already contributes up to 37% of global greenhouse gases and that, without intervention, these are likely to increase by another 30% by 2050, due to increasing demand from population growth.

The Foundation said it aims to promote more sustainable buying choices from consumers and more environmentally-friendly innovation from food producers, who it says will be determined to secure a better score.

Andy Zynga, chief executive of EIT Food, called the launch of Foundation Earth ‘a very significant moment for the European food industry’. “It is the culmination of years of work from our EIT Food consortium. It will bring about a credible and clear front-of-pack environmental labelling system on food products right across the continent. 

“In supermarkets throughout the European Union, consumers are trying to make more environmentally-friendly choices – and food is at the heart of this. Foundation Earth has brought together the major players from the world of science, food production and retailing and will provide consumers with the tools to drive sustainable innovation.” 

However, Mark Driscoll from sustainability consultancy Tasting the Future, said government action was also needed.

“These schemes will undoubtedly help those consumers who are already environmentally conscious, and I fully support such initiatives - but I doubt whether they will be a tipping point in terms of consumer behaviours more generally,”​ he told FoodNavigator.

“I do worry the emphasis continues to be placed on consumers to make informed decisions. Ultimately, to transform buying behaviours we need to move beyond nudge. Governments need to step up to the plate and provide a range of fiscal incentives and disincentives to reflect the true cost (health/sustainability/social) of food. Governments should be doing more to ensure sustainable and healthy foods/diets are accessible and affordable - this requires levelling the playing field - so agricultural subsidies that support the access to  and the production of sustainable produced foods (supporting regenerative and agroecological farming practices), greater levels of taxation on ultra-processed foods (high in sugars, salts etc) and an integrated food and farming strategy linking health, nutrition and sustainability.”

Johannes Weber, European Affairs manager at Nestlé, added: “Nestlé is committed to building a more sustainable food system and providing consumers with the best information to make sustainable choices. These choices will drive the innovation we need to see across our food industry.

“This pan-European scientific project will help us to further develop the concept of communicating the environmental impact of our food and beverage products. Foundation Earth will provide us with the opportunity to test environmental footprint methods, learn how different products perform and establish how consumers respond. We hope this could help inform discussions in Europe with regards to a harmonised system for environmental scores.”

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