No Go For Carbon Labelling

The concept of carbon labelling meat and other food products has been dealt a blow after key players in the food industry rejected potential plans.

Defra, BSI standards and the Carbon Trust have launched a carbon footprinting specification, Publicly Available Standard 2050 (PAS 2050), which enables businesses to calculate a product's carbon footprint by analysing emissions through every stage of the supply chain from production to consumption.

It was thought that PAS 2050 could be used to create carbon labelling on meat and food products. The Carbon Trust piloted the standard during its carbon labelling trials and Carbon Trust chief executive Tom Delay said PAS 2050 would help businesses "compete on a level playing field when it comes to environmental performance".

However, the food industry has indicated that it is not comfortable with the concept of carbon labelling. At a recent conference held by environmental consultancy ADAS, attended by producers, manufacturers, retailers and marketing bodies, it was agreed carbon labelling would not benefit the food industry.

Delegates raised concerns about the difficulty of collecting accurate data, the lack of official accreditation for PAS 2050, the complexity of calculating carbon for agricultural products, the danger of labelling high-carbon foods, such as meat, and the lack of consideration of other sustainability factors, such as water use and animal welfare.

"Do we want a number on the pack or do we want to be able to give advice to reduce emissions down the food chain?" asked Sarah Sim, lifecycle manager for Unilever.

Another key concern was the value of a carbon label to the consumer. It was argued that carbon labelling may confuse consumers and put a price premium on low-carbon goods, rather than improving environmental performance across the industry.

"What will consumers do with a number?" said Alison Austin, environmental affairs manager for Sainsbury's. "We would like to use carbon footprinting to improve efficiency and then communicate those improvements to consumers through other means."

No-one from the Carbon Trust or Tesco - the only major multiple to sign up to a carbon labelling scheme - attended the ADAS conference.

Euan Murray, the Carbon Trust's carbon footprinting general manager, insisted that carbon labelling was an effective way to drive environmental improvement, despite exisiting inaccuracies. "There is of course some uncertainty and inaccuracy in the carbon footprinting method, but what we have shown is that we can get that uncertainty down to manageable levels," he said.

Murray added that, over time, consumers will understand more about what carbon values mean. "Look at nutritional labelling - people's literacy in nutrition has improved. The same thing will happen with carbon," he added.

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