Mandatory environment labelling for food could be a game-changer in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut pollution, says a prominent UK academic.

Joseph Poore, lead researcher of a recent high-profile study into the environmental impacts of food production, wants to see the adoption an eco rating system similar to that now mandatory in the EU for white goods and televisions.
Poore says that mandatory environmental labels would change the way we produce and consume food in far-reaching ways.
Writing in The Guardian in the same week as publication of the IPCC report into limiting global warming, he says that the tools for measuring environmental impacts across the food chain are already available, relatively inexpensive and effective. He cites as an example the US supermarket retailer Costco, which found ways to reduce emissions at its organic producers by 13%.
By requiring food producers to measure their impacts in a uniform way, says Poore, it would make them accountable for the results. And because the labels would be about results, not how the results are achieved, he says, they would actively support producer choice.

“This relatively simple but powerful change could be instrumental in halting and reversing the escalating degradation of our imperilled planet”

Additionally, mandatory labeling would support sustainable consumption by highlighting how outwardly similar food products can have dramatically different environmental impacts. Moreover, says Poore, it would create a new transparency around food production that could be used to inform policy-making and direct subsidies to producers and systems that deliver proven environmental benefits.
Poore says the limited ability of existing eco labels to change consumer behaviour is, in part, due to the fact that the are voluntary. In his Guardian article, he writes: “What we need now is for our leaders to implement mandatory environmental labelling. This would reward sustainable companies, enable sustainable eating and support better policymaking. This relatively simple but powerful change could be instrumental in halting and reversing the escalating degradation of our imperilled planet.”
Main image: Example of food labels showing environmental impacts. Illustration: Joseph Poore