EU organic food could be sidelined by pending eco-labelling scheme, warns IFOAM

03 Feb 2022 — The EU organic sector has hit back at plans to harmonize eco-claims and create eco-labels covering nutritional, climate, environmental and social aspects of food production, calling the situation “worrying “.

The EU’s ‘Product Environmental Footprint’ (PEF) aims to measure the environmental impact of commercial goods and is the framework for a new labeling policy due next year.

However, critics of this policy argue that it lacks substantial benchmarks, which can lead to losses for organic food producers.

“The bottom line is that the PEF, by its construction, inherently favors intensive rather than extensive production systems,” the Organic Producers Coordinating Group points out,” says organic food association IFOAM Organics Europe.

While this methodology is relevant for industrial manufactured products, IFOAM asserts that it is not suitable for food products.

“For example, it gives aberrant results where eggs from caged hens score the best, while eggs from free-range hens score worse. This is because when applied to food, DEP is only an output indicator that does not take into account externalities such as impacts on biodiversity, pesticide use and well-being. to be animal.

Critics of the PEF policy argue that it lacks substantial benchmarks, which can lead to losses for organic food producers.A harmonized labeling system is needed
IFOAM’s criticism of the European Commission’s decision to anchor its labeling policy on the PEF does not mean that the farmers’ organization is entirely against harmonized labelling.

Different labels support different visions of the future agri-food system and therefore choosing one label over another can either support or oppose a transition to more sustainable food systems.

As IFOAM points out: “Consumers trust and recognize the organic label and the need to avoid confusion. Existing labels such as the Organic Label and the EU Ecolabel have been well established for many years and need to be carefully considered in this process. »

As proof of this claim, the 2020 Eurobarometer revealed that more consumers are now aware of the EU organic logo, with 56% of respondents recognizing the logo, a 29% increase from 2017.

People think organic products are more likely to follow specific rules on pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics (82% agree); are more environmentally friendly (81%); and are produced with the greatest respect for animal welfare (80%).

Too many logos
A specific concern of IFOAM Organics Europe is that the introduction of PEF-based claims in a way that does not take into account the benefits of organic farming would “significantly undermine” the Commission’s existing efforts to increase recognition. of the organic logo among consumers, as well as to protect the term “organic” and the products it covers.

A proliferation of numerous labels on packaging could confuse consumers, IFOAM points out.In addition, the group proposes that there may be a risk that claims create confusion regarding organic products. Consumers may not be fully aware of the differences between an organic product and a product that has a good PEF score.

“Furthermore, the use of too many logos risks creating consumer confusion, exactly the opposite of the Commission’s objectives,” says IFOAM.

For example, a can of organic vegetables could display everything from nutrition labeling on the front of the packaging, to the logo on the environmental performance of the products, the European organic logo, the logo with a protected indication of origin , nutrition declaration, nutrition label or identification of the nature of the packaging material.

Other labels include any other voluntary symbol such as “mountain product” or “product of island agriculture“, in addition to claims on social inclusion, barcode, logos such as “vegetarian”, ” gluten-free”, “palm oil-free”. .”

And last year, front-of-package carbon labeling trials began with the aim of helping companies calculate, reduce and label the environmental impact of their food.

“Even the discerning consumer may be confused by the number of logos,” says IFOAM.

“In light of these concerns, we conclude that at this stage the PEF is not a sufficiently developed instrument when it comes to making environmental claims about a product or attaching a certain percentage to performance. environmental impact of a certain product”, it’s stressful.

“We therefore propose that the PEF can only be used on a voluntary basis as an internal tool for companies to assess and compare the environmental performance of their products, but should not be considered the only or a demonstration tool. performance at the B2C level. .”

By Benjamin Ferrer

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