The European Commission has in recent months considered a variety of proposals to stamp out misleading environmental claims, including a method to force companies to validate their claims through a ‘Product Environmental Footprint’ - a methodology for calculating the environmental impact of a product over its lifetime - and a ban on the introduction of new public labelling schemes unless developed at the EU level, and private schemes which do not show higher environmental ambition than those currently on the market.
EIT Food is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union, and research, based on a survey of nearly 10,000 consumers from 18 European countries, found that 67% said they would use such a label, while just 13% felt they would be unlikely to do so.
The research comes on the back of a special label greenwashing and what it means to eat ‘clean’ report on ConfectioneryNews - and has been released to mark the launch of the new Consumer Observatory. Part of EIT Food, the Consumer Observatory aims to bring together the breadth of consumer insights and knowledge from the world’s largest food innovation community.
While there are currently no internationally agreed standards for environmental sustainability labelling and no agreement on what sustainable production should measure, authorities are discussing the development of a common eco-label that would inform consumers about the impact that food products have on the climate and society.
The research found that almost two-thirds of Europeans - 63% - believe food brands pretend their products are more sustainable than they really are, while only a third of Europeans, 33%, believe their government is transparent about regulating sustainability labels on food.
Klaus Grunert, Professor at Denmark’s Aarhus University and Director of the EIT Food Consumer Observatory, said: “In a world where there are over 450 sustainability logos in operation, many companies use green claims and eco-labels to help market their products. But currently, there is no universal standard for these labels, leaving many consumers confused by all the different symbols and logos on the market.
“It’s clear from our research that consumers want to be better informed about the environmental footprint of their food and that there is widespread support for a universal, independent and factually substantiated label for sustainable food products. Introducing such a label - and ensuring that all eco-labels include clear and concise information - could be the best way to empower consumers to make informed choices about how what they eat impacts the planet.”
Among the 18 countries surveyed, Italy, Spain and Poland were those with the highest levels of support for such a label, with 81%, 79% and 78% of consumers respectively saying they would use it, while Czech consumers are the least supportive (45%). In Turkey, 40% of consumers said they would be “very likely” to use it.
The recyclability of the packaging, animal welfare, and pollution and the use of chemicals and fertilisers were the areas that consumers most wanted to see covered by an eco-label, with 90%, 89% and 88% of consumers saying they would like to see these respective elements.
The research also found:
- Consumers in the Czech Republic, Portugal, and Romania are particularly distrustful of their governments, with just 21%, 24% and 27% respectively saying they believe they are transparent about regulating ecolabels on food.
- Women are more sceptical of government than men: just 31% felt they were transparent when regulating eco-labels compared to 36% of male respondents.
- The Netherlands, Germany and Ireland are the countries where people have the least trust in food brands’ green claims, with 73%, 69% and 69% of consumers respectively saying they believe they pretend their products are more sustainable than they are.
Commenting on the launch, Sofia Kuhn, Director of Public Engagement at EIT Food, said: “We’re at a critical juncture: the food system must be transformed if we are to succeed in ensuring it can deliver healthy, sustainable food for all. In the Consumer Observatory, a crucial forum now exists to help realise this aim within Europe, putting consumer insights at the forefront. The knowledge the Consumer Observatory gathers into consumer behaviours will be available to food systems actors to help reach the shared goal of driving forward a healthier and more sustainable food system.”