Traffic-light system of ‘eco-scores’ to be piloted on British food labels

A new traffic light system on food and drinks packaging is being launched to allow consumers to make more environmentally friendly choices.

The scheme has been put together by Foundation Earth, a new non-profit organisation backed by the government, global food giant Nestlé and British brands including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, the Co-op and Costa Coffee.

A pilot run in the autumn will see a range of food and drink carrying front-of-packaging “eco scores” for the first time, ranking the environmental impact of each item and allowing customers to easily assess whether they are buying goods that have a low-carbon footprint from suppliers focused on sustainability.

The labels are expected to shake up the supply chains of the food and drinks industry and encourage producers to be more innovative in helping reduce their environmental impact. Products will be graded into tiers marked A to G and colour-coded, with green reserved for the most environmentally friendly items and red for the least, based on a system developed by food scientists at Oxford University with support from World Wide Fund for Nature.

Food production is a major contributor to carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the industry is responsible for up to 37% of greenhouse gases, and that without intervention this is likely to increase by 30% by 2050 due to population growth.

The launch of Foundation Earth has brought together key players from food science, food production and retailing, and is being partly funded by the European Commission’s food innovation initiative EIT Food.

Andy Zynga, chief executive of EIT, said: “Foundation Earth is the culmination of years of work from our EIT Food consortium and from the likes of Oxford University. It will bring a credible and clear front-of-pack labelling system on food products right across the continent.”

The traffic light pilot will run in parallel with a nine-month research project that will combine the Oxford method with a programme devised by Belgium university KU Leuven and Spanish research agency AZTI to produce an eco-score system fit for use across Europe by 2022.

Foundation Earth was the brainchild of entrepreneur Denis Lynn, who died in a quadbike accident last month. Lynn’s firm Finnebrogue Artisan owns bacon brand Naked, which will join Meatless Farm, Greencore, Mash Direct and the Good Little Company in adding eco-scores to their products from September.

Labour MP Luke Pollard, the shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, said: “People want to do what they can to tackle the climate crisis and help the environment. But at the moment they don’t have the information they need to make more sustainable buying choices. I want to see clearer labelling on carbon and environmental credentials so people can back the brands and products doing the right thing by our planet.”

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