Labeling Food Based on Its Environmental Impact Could Change the Way We Grocery Shop

Denmark has introduced a legislative proposal that would require food to be labeled according to its effect on climate change, The Local reports.

“We want to give consumers the means to assess in supermarkets the environmental impact of products,” Lars Christian Lilleholt, Minister for the Environment told The Local.

The initiative is part of a new 38-point climate and air proposal, titled Together for a Greener Future, which the government presented on Tuesday.

Denmark’s climate and air plan also includes initiatives for cleaner transportation, efficient and modern agricultural strategies, environmentally-friendly shipping, and greenhousing.

To make these climate conscious food labels a reality, the government plans to collaborate with supermarkets.

“I will enter into dialogue with the retail sector, butchers and other food producers to open a discussion about how we can implement this in a way that would enable the climate labelling to work,” Lilleholt, The Local.

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How food is grown, processed, and transported all have significant impact on the environment. And through their purchasing patterns, informed consumers can have some say in what and how food is produced. What consumers choose not to buy can speak volumes to food industries and reduce food waste.

“Shopping is ground zero for wasting less food,” Dana Gunders, Staff Scientist at Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) told Takepart.

However, the Danish Agriculture and Food Council (DAFC), an organization that represents farming and food businesses and associations in Denmark, stressed that consuming environmentally friendly foods must not come at the expense of nutritional value — both should inform grocery shoppers’ choices.

“It might be necessary to weigh up the environmental impact against the nutritional value of the product. A bottle of soda may have a low environmental impact, but it is not a product you can live on, Morten Høyer, DAFC director said in a statement.

Determining the environmental footprint of every piece of food available won’t be simple.

“Our goal is to develop an accurate label. We must include every piece of information so products like plant-based substitutes for ground meat has information on the climate impact of the soy in the product which is produced in South America,” Høyer told CNN. But he calls it a “worthy challenge.”

With $821 million people undernourished around the world and hunger on the rise, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is more necessary than ever that consumers and industry alike, monitor and take steps to reduce food waste.

Processed foods, which are high on the food pyramid, typically require a lot of processing before they are ready to eat and tend to use large amounts of energy. These release the most pollution into the air, according to the NRDC.

Meat also has a large carbon footprint. If all Americans eliminated just one quarter-pound serving of beef per week, we would see a major decrease in emissions — equivalent to taking 4 to 6 million cars off the road, according to the NRDC.

Seafood consumption can harm the environment as well since fishing boats emit 130 million tons of CO2 each year and overfishing, driven by consumer demands, is damaging to ocean ecosystems. Advocacy organizations like The Safina Center have created a guide to help consumers make informed decisions on seafood purchases.

The most environmentally-friendly food choices tend to be lower on the food pyramid — like fruits and vegetables — organic, and locally grown, according to the NRDC.

Denmark’s efforts to label food based on its impact on climate change could set precedent for other countries to do the same and spur more conscious food consumption.

“Everyone knows that food production influences the climate, but if the rest of the world produced food the way we do in Denmark, the world would be a better place,” Høyer said.

SOURCE: Global Citizen