Should We Have Carbon Labels on Food Products?

July 11, 2022
min read
Holly keeNAN
Environmental journalist
Outdoors enthusiast

Carbon labels present a great opportunity to increase public awareness of the environmental impacts associated with food production, as well as support producers who provide sustainable products.

The thought behind carbon labels is to incentivise consumers to choose food options that have lower carbon emissions. Organisations want to start empowering the consumers by providing them with the opportunity to make climate-conscious decisions.

People will be able to compare products and choose the item that is better for the planet.

With 30% of all greenhouse gases coming from the food industry, there is no doubt that the food supply chain needs to see some changes. But with 67% of consumers saying that they are more likely to purchase from brands that are reducing their carbon footprint, carbon labels have a high chance of being successful and pushing food manufacturers to reduce their emissions. 

Are Carbon Labels The Future?

Around the end of the 20th century, the world saw a drastic increase in consumers' interest in nutrition. The demand for more nutritional produce skyrocketed as health related illnesses increased.

In the 1990s it became mandatory for all food companies to include a nutrition fact panel on their food products. Consumers were demanding to understand more about the nutritional value of their food. 

Nevertheless, as the climate emergency becomes a more imminent threat will carbon labels follow a similar trajectory to nutritional labels? 

 Non Profit Organisations such as Foundation Earth have recently begun running trails in the UK on their newly developed carbon label, ‘EnviroScore’. They use a Life Cycle (LCA) Assessment method which looks at the journey the food has taken from farm to fork.

The LCA method takes into account a product’s environmental impact by assessing the farming, processing, packaging and transport of a food product. The EnviroScore Labels are being tested across a range of different supermarkets including M&S, Aldi and Lidl. 

It’s not only food companies that are beginning to introduce carbon labels. One of the most renowned vegan restaurants in the UK, Stem & Glory recently added carbon dioxide emission scores for every dish on their menu. 

In an interview with the BBC, Lou Palmer-Masterton the owner of the vegan restaurant said:

 "These (carbon labels) are something I've thought about for a while, and even though all our products are plant-based, I was still curious about the impact they have on the environment," says Ms Palmer-Masterton.

"This movement [carbon labelling] is exploding right now, and it makes sense."

Some companies have decided to take it one step further than labels by creating an app that provides you with an in-depth ecological food rating. 

The new start up company Palau, recently launched their app that scans the barcode of food products and provides a detailed ecological breakdown of their emissions. The app was launched with aim of bringing more transparency to the food industry and forcing food companies to reevaluate their supply chains. 

Potential Problems

One problem these companies face is creating an accurate carbon score. Until government legislation forces all food companies to provide accurate information on their food supply chain, it can be extremely challenging to obtain this information. 

Nevertheless, as the demand increases for more sustainable produce, data on the food supply chains will become more readily available.


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