The proliferation of food labels– there are more than 400 in Europe alone – renders them meaningless, according to findings in a new report.
The competing sets of standards prevent consumers from comparing apples to apples, as the saying goes. Metaphorically, they are asked to compare apples to pears, and make some kind of sense of that on their own.
Agrifood industry leaders are now looking to partner with government agencies, academics and others to change all this.
Global harmonisation across food scoring – including nutritional and environmental information – has been recommended in a new report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development – whose members include some of the world’s biggest agrifood companies.
Only this way will food’s environmental damage be addressed, along with the need for consumers to make more healthy choices, the report says.
“There is a need for collaboration that reaches across market regions”
The report, Food Labelling: Principles to support the uptake of healthy and sustainable diets, says “To resolve issues presented by the proliferation of scores and labels on the market, we recommend that industry come together to decide on the next steps to harmonise a scoring label approach that considers data, methods, verification and communication.
“Consolidating efforts will help drive corporate investment in the right direction and help consumers navigate the market.
“To avoid the proliferation of different types of scoring labels that can lead to confusion, lack of alignment, and loss of resources, there is a need for collaboration that reaches across market regions.”
The report says it’s important to separate the various aspects of scores – rather than combine them into one. In other words, providing separate scores for nutrition and environmental impacts.
Industry leaders were prepared to partner with government agencies, academics and others to test scoring systems, helping to iterate and improve them over time to support the widespread uptake of healthy and sustainable diets.
“Efforts to measure impact are being hampered”
“The proliferation of various types of labels can pull companies in different directions, for example, driving investments in collecting various types of data or making claims or frameworks that are ultimately not compliant with future labelling regulations,” the report says.
Efforts to measure impact and encourage healthier, more sustainable choices are being hampered by all the new labelling systems making their way into the market, it adds.
And food products without packaging should be scored as well. This avoids giving the impression that packaged food is better than non-packaged, when fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains – often sold unpackaged – are in fact critical to healthy diets.
The report says industry should contribute to publicly developed scoring systems, offering a harmonised approach that lets smaller players engage, adding “Public bodies, in conjunction with the private sector, could develop automated tools that facilitate and make more affordable calculations.”
The report also warns that labels are not a silver bullet solution to driving food system transformation, but that it’s important “scores or labels are meaningful to the target population, complementing other interventions”.