Towards a sustainable food labelling framework to empower consumers to make sustainable food choices

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EMSK arvamus: Towards a sustainable food labelling framework to empower consumers to make sustainable food choices

Key points:

The EESC:

  • welcomes the European Commission's initiative to establish a legal framework for sustainable    food systems, including rules on sustainable food labelling. There is clearly a need for rules and a certain level of standardisation and harmonisation in order to ensure credibility and a level playing-field;
  • stresses that sustainability is a multidimensional concept, which should always give equal consideration to the economic, environmental and social dimension
  • points out that people's eating habits are very diverse, depend on different factors, and are very persistent. Expectations for a sustainability labelling scheme should therefore be realistic from the outset. However, there is a general interest in changing to more sustainable consumption patterns;
  • recommends, therefore, establishing a sustainable food labelling framework that is transparent, based on science and as simple and pragmatic as possible, both helping economic operators to assess and improve the sustainability of products and providing useful information to help consumers make informed choices;
  • suggests, in the interests of ease and pragmatism, also making do with sub-elements of a fully defined and rated sustainability, such as animal welfare or social or environmental criteria. However, the term "sustainable" should not be used in this case, as this should only be used in the context of a comprehensive rating approach;
  • advocates, firstly, a voluntary approach, which should, however, impose mandatory conditions if it is applied. Sustainability labels or sustainability claims that are not based on these conditions should therefore be banned;
  • takes the view that labelling systems that use a rating scale (e.g. in the form of a traffic light system) can help consumers make informed choices. At the same time, such rating systems can also promote sustainability leadership and can encourage companies to improve their processes to that end, right along the food chain;
  • points out that rating algorithms are crucial for a scale model. These must be scientifically based and made transparent to consumers in an appropriate manner;
  • considers that existing EU quality schemes, such as organic farming and geographical indications, already include elements that contribute to greater sustainability in the food system. This should be recognised accordingly. The EESC also recommends that the existing rules undergo a sustainability check and, where appropriate, be supplemented by adequate sustainability provisions;
  • emphasises the crucial role education plays in providing a basic understanding of sustainability aspects relating to food. Awareness raising campaigns and adequate measures to support the affordability of sustainable food products can also promote the transition towards more sustainable food systems.