First steps towards European eco-label for food

Published on
February 17, 2023

The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) and Wageningen University & Research are taking the initiative to improve transparency concerning the sustainability of food in shops. Companies and consumers should be given the opportunity to compare the environmental impact of products. One option is a single European eco-label.

Several private and public eco-labels, quality labels, and certificates currently exist in Europe, varying from country to country. In the Netherlands alone, there are more than 140 quality labels and logos on packaging. These usually highlight only one or a few sustainability aspects, such as CO2 emissions, animal welfare, or organic production. In addition, these quality labels are often far from transparent and verifiable, and the diversity of labels is confusing for consumers. Even though Milieu Centraal has selected 12 top labels, a real comparison is extremely complex.

The sustainable choice should become the easy choice for consumers
Minister Piet Adema

Environmental impact at a glance

A harmonised way of making product sustainability transparent should dispel this ambiguity. This can be compared with the European Nutri-Score of food health aspects on packaging. An eco-label can show at a glance how a product impacts the environment. This allows consumers to make informed choices, for example for a can of green beans from abroad or fresh carrots from the Netherlands. Or when choosing between meat and a plant-based meat substitute. This should also lead to more competition on the market being based on sustainability, rather than solely on food prices.

Minister Piet Adema: “The sustainable choice should become the easy choice for consumers. This is facilitated by a reliable and comparable insight into how sustainable a product is. It encourages consumers to make the more sustainable choice and the retail and industry to compete in the area of sustainability, and it helps farmers earn a fair income. Stable earning power for the farmer is ultimately the key to an agricultural transition in the Netherlands, which is why I want the Agriculture Agreement to include agreements on how to make the supermarket shelf more sustainable."

Game changer

In a new study, WUR researchers conclude that an eco-label could be a game changer for making food more sustainable. The expectation is that a standard, reliable eco-label will lead to food companies making their product offerings more sustainable. The researchers also point out that governments and supply chain partners can use environmental impact data to set targets for a more sustainable food supply.

Last year, in anticipation of a possible European eco-label, Wageningen University & Research and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), in cooperation with 25 Dutch parties, started working on a standard methodology for measuring the environmental impact of food.This collaboration brings together supermarket chains, food processing companies, feed suppliers, and knowledge institutions such as Milieu Centraal and RIVM. This initiative stems from the Climate Agreement, in which it was agreed that from 2025 onwards, food producers would voluntarily disclose the environmental impact of their products. This can result in information on the packaging or, for example, through reports via industry associations.