01/02/2022

Sustainability labelling: Product Environmental Footprint not suitable for agri-food products

Sustainability labelling has to be one of the major food-related political topics of 2022. As the think tank IDDRI outlines in its report ‘Environmental food labelling: revealing visions to build a political compromise’ (in French) different labels support different visions of the future agri-food system and, therefore, choosing a certain label over another can either support or oppose a transition towards more sustainable food systems.

This issue is of strategic importance for all those who support a transition of food systems towards sustainability. Indeed, the calculation method behind the future sustainability label will be a political decision of either supporting a transition towards more sustainable food systems, or rather supporting further “sustainable intensification”. Indeed, life cycle analysis methodologies such as the PEF tend to support the continuation of the current intensive system of food production, the impact of which the Farm to Fork strategy seeks to address.

Why now?
In its Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission will:

  1. “Examine ways to harmonise green claims”; and
  2. “Create a sustainable labelling framework that covers (…) the nutritional, climate, environmental, social aspects of food production”.

For the first point, the Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV) intends to publish a “regulation on substantiating green claims based on the PEF/OEF” in March 2022. The Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) leads on the second initiative and aims to address sustainability labelling in the context of the sustainable food systems legislative framework, expected in 2023.

What about this PEF and why is it contested?
The PEF stands for Product Environmental Footprint, a tool aimed to assess the environmental impact of a certain product, that the European Commission has been working on for the past 10 years.

As IFOAM Organics Europe, we expressed the European organic movement’s concerns regarding the PEF in our 2021 position paper. The bottom line is that the PEF per its construction inherently favours intensive rather than extensive production systems. Indeed, while this methodology is relevant for manufactured industrial products, it is not adapted to food products. For example, it gives aberrant results where eggs from caged hens get the best score, whereas free range, organic eggs score worse. The reason for this is that when applied to food, PEF is merely an indicator of yield that does not consider externalities such as impacts on biodiversity, pesticide use and animal welfare.

As such, the PEF methodology applied to food products has been criticised by civil society, farmers and an increasing number of retailers and processors.

It is worrying that the European Commission seems to be basing its substantiating claims regulation on the PEF, as it may indicate that the PEF will also be used as a basis for the sustainability label.

What alternatives to the PEF?
One of the alternatives to the PEF that has seen the light in France is the PlanetScore, a tool that assess the environmental impact of a certain product, by also looking at externalities such as biodiversity, the impact of pesticides on the environment and the method of production.

While the PlanetScore is based on a life cycle analysis (LCA), it also includes additional information such as impact on biodiversity.

Find out more about the PlanetScore [in French] in writing and an explanatory video.

IFOAM Organics Europe’s members will be able to view the “Let’s discuss organic” recording on sustainability labelling and the PlanetScore that will be available on our member extranet.

For questions about sustainability labelling and/or the PlanetScore please contact silvia.schmidt@organicseurope.bio

 
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