II. Consumers Want Informative Food Labels Including Green Food Labels
III. The Uses and Range of Green Food Labels
IV. Current Green labeling Programs
Green labeling in The Netherlands
Nature Farming (Japan)
Examples of IPM/Low-Input labeling Programs
"Partners with Nature" in Massachusetts
Integrated Fruit Production (IFP) in Europe
Fruit growers in Hood, River Oregon,
"Responsible Choice" by Stemilt Company
California Clean Growers
V. Are They Green Food Labels? Alternative Trade Labels and Labels Making Food Safety Claims
Alternative Trade Organization Labels
Alternative Trade Labels for Coffee
Nutri-Clean "No Detected ResiduesÓ
Coleman Natural Meats
VI. Labels in the Wings: Proposals and Opportunities for Green Food Labels of the Near Future
Food Miles: a proposed green label program to reflect the costs of long-distance food trade
British Columbia Food Choice and Disclosure Act: A Framework for Introducing New Food Labels
VII. Elements of Responsible Food Labeling
VIII. Problems and Issues in Green Label Implementation
The Appropriateness of Green Food Labeling in Food Marketing
How Green is Green? The Life-Cycle Approach
labeling Priorities: Focusing on the Essentials
Consumer Knowledge and Education
Grower Support and Education
Standards, Measures, and Methods of Assessment
The Problem of False Claims, the Need for Documentation, and the Need for Enforcement
We would like to acknowledge the extensive comments and direction we received from Roger Blobaum of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association, Kristin Dawkins and Emily Green of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Lois Levitan of Cornell University. We especially thank Kristin Dawkins for allowing us to make ample reference to her report. We would also like to thank the organizations who provided written and verbal information on their labeling programs.
GREEN FOOD LABELS
Emerging Opportunities for Environmental Awareness
and Market Development
"Green" food labels are an idea whose time has come, thanks largely to a rise in consumer awareness and demands for action in the food marketing arena. This report surveys current experience and thinking on food labeling issues--including descriptions of a number of existing programs--and considers the viewpoints of industry, consumers, and third parties.
The term "green labeling" connotes something vaguely positive from the environmental point of view, but definitions vary. In this paper, we define green labeling as labeling which conveys information about the environmental impact of producing, processing, transporting, or using a food product. It may convey information in one or more of these areas: soil, water, and land- use practices; pest control practices; and/or energy and resource consumption.Green labeling is certainly needed, because these characteristics are not evident to the senses and yet they matter to many consumers.
Very common among green or eco-labeling practices is placing a seal, or emblem of approval, on a product. Such a seal purports to symbolize the product's qualifications in one or more dimensions of environmental responsibility, and amounts to a shorthand declaration of its eco-worthiness. It does not,however, offer a detailed informational listing or explanation. Most of the examples and discussion that follow pertain to seals of one kind or another.
This could be a decisive period in the development and implementation of green food labeling. The field is so new that most standards and measures are crude and controversial, and the promise of offering consumers intelligent choices is matched only by the potential for confusion and chaos. This report is intended to filter out the critical issues from the welter of opinions and ongoing experiments in the green labeling movement, and to point a direction for future efforts.
II. Consumers Want Informative Food Labels... Including Green Food Labels
It goes without saying that consumers are interested in health and safety information, particularly where it concerns their diet. More surprising, however, is a 1989 Roper poll that found that consumers looked to food labels more than any other source -- including newspapers, television, magazines,cookbooks, advertisements, and other people--for information on food and nutrition.(1)
In recent years, consumers interests have expanded beyond traditional nutrition and food safety information to include interest in the impacts of food production on the environment. The most recent survey by the Food Marketing Institute found that more than half (55 percent) of U.S. consumers surveyed searched for products labeled "environmentally sound." One analyst concluded that "a verdant revolution is literally emerging in grocery stores across the land; items promoted as having a 'green connection accounted for 11.4 percent of all new products in1990."(2) A VP for Environmental Affairs at an international merchants group predicts that once the initial wave of green consumerism has subsided, a more significant trend is likely to develop, so there will almost always be a green alternative for a variety of products and services.(3)
Consumers are also demanding other information on how foods are produced--for example, consumers worldwide want information on food labels about foods made using new bitchiness.(FN1) One study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA) and carried out by Thomas Hoban(4) found that85 percent of those surveyed thought that it was "very important" to have information on a food label as to whether a food was produced using biotechnology. A survey sponsored by Industry Canada showed that 83 percent to 94 percent of Canadians want foods to be specifically labeled when they are produced using biotechnology (the percentage varied depending on how the question was asked).(5) A national government survey of consumers in Australia that involved 1,378 people found that 89 percent said that a genetically engineered tomato should be labeled so that people could decide whether they wanted to eat it or not; only 4 percent were against labeling.(6) A USDA-funded survey of 604 New Jersey residents' attitudes on agricultural biotechnology, showed that84 percent of those polled wanted mandatory labeling of engineered fruits and vegetables.(7) Labeling of milk products from cows treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), also called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), was favored by a large majority of consumers in five studies done before approval of rbGH in1993(8) and three done post-approval(9), according to Michael Hanson of the Consumer Policy Institute. (To date, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has held firm in its belief that labeling should not be required for genetically engineered food products (or even permitted for dairy products from cows treated with rbGH/rbST).)(FN2)
The "green" revolution in marketing began with products other than food. Products with "green" claims on their labels-- like "recyclable," "degradable," "environmentally friendly," and"nontoxic"--began flooding the U.S. marketplace in the 1980s.
These green claims certainly haven't been confined to the U.S. Germany's "Blue Angel" label, launched in 1977 to denote "environmentally sound" products, pioneered the green labeling movement. The European Economic Commission has approved a voluntary "ecolabel," which resembles a flower stem bearing a large"E" surrounded by 12 stars, to help European consumers identify "green"products. Initially, the label is expected to cover environmentally friendly versions of products such as detergents, paper products, paints and washing machines. Food, drink, and pharmaceuticals are excluded.
As for food, the market in Europe for "green"produce is so strong that certain buyers will only buy pome fruits grown under an Integrated Pest Management-type program called Integrated Fruit Production (IFP).(10) In Japan, there are growing concerns about health and food safety, with increasing attention focused on the safety of imported foods, especially fresh produce and grains from the U.S.(FN3). At the same time, organically grown foods(including foods certified organic by state agencies in the U.S.) are gaining in popularity. In Canada, a survey sponsored by the Grocery Products Manufacturers of Canada found that 80percent of respondents were willing to pay more for environmentally safe products.
Consumer watchdog groups in the U.S. have fought to ensure that the information consumers get is truthful, as well as responsive to their concerns. Consumers, long tired of misleading claims such as "light" or "no cholesterol," finally got in the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990 a tough law that prevents many misleading claims. The NLEA requires significantly more and clearer nutritional information on the food label so that consumers are better able to choose healthier foods for a healthier diet. There is no comparable law for green food labels--and perhaps there cannot be, since the measures of "greenness" are far more varied and complex. This makes non-governmental organization (NGO)and media vigilance, and consumer education, key to the responsible evolution of these labels.