Red Tractor and ethical labels 'are confusing shoppers'

Consumers are baffled by ethical labels, and are not sure what they are buying, a new investigation has shown.

Ed Mayo, secretary general of the network of ethical businesses Cooperatives UK, said: "Consumers are baffled. The ethical labels play a valuable role, but like all business clubs, they should be open and transparent with the public.

"The Fairtrade mark is probably the gold standard in terms of public trust and rigour. Other ethical labels have more to do if they are not to discredit what has become a valued and co-operative part of our shopping experience."

The report by the Daily Telegraph concluded that: "The fees [charged by ethical schemes for use of their logo] should be made more explicit to shoppers.”

The largest scheme, Red Tractor, is used on £10bn-worth of products in the UK, and charges a 0.002% royalty fee, a one-off payment whenever a product bearing its logo is sold. The Marine Stewardship Council charges 0.5%, Freedom Food 0.3% and the Soil Association 0.03%.

Yearly fees for use by manufacturers of logos also amount to £1,200 for the Marine Stewardship Council and around £650 for the Soil Association insignia.

Look out for a major, in-depth round-table discussion on labelling in the 15 October Meat Trades Journal issue.

There are around 80 different food assurance labels – including examples produced by the Vegetarian Society and Rainforest Alliance, along with 13 different organic stickers – found The Daily Telegraph.

Around one-fifth of all food bought in UK retail outlets has some kind of ethical claim, it has been estimated.

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