/ Food & Drink

Would you welcome a universal green food label?

Lemon with a green label

Organic, Fairtrade, carbon reduction, animal welfare… there are so many issues to consider when buying food, and so many labels to look out for. So would a one-size-fits-all approach help to clear the confusion?

Do you consciously make sustainable choices when shopping? Or are other things such as price or taste of more concern?

When we researched this topic last year, people prioritised taste/quality, safety, price and healthy eating above buying sustainably. But they did agree that sustainability is important – and said they’d take it into account if it was made easier with clearer labels.

Too many labels

But if you do try to shop sustainably how straightforward do you find it? Personally, I find it a minefield. With the sustainable banner covering environmental, health, social and ethical issues it’s impossible to navigate all the food labels on the market.

I’m often torn between trying to reduce my environmental impact and supporting local producers in developing countries.

There are so many labels on the market and the message isn’t getting through about what they all stand for. Our research showed a low level of recognition and understanding of many of them.

I readily recognise the Fairtrade logo, but apart from the fact that it gives the farmer a fair price for their product I couldn’t tell you much else about its ethos.

Whereas I buy other products that I didn’t even know carried labels – such as Kingsmill bread and Walkers crisps. Both carry the Carbon Trust Carbon Reduction Label.

But even now that I’m aware of the label, it doesn’t necessarily help me. It might tell me the amount of Carbon Dioxide emitted during manufacture, but it doesn’t explain whether this is high or low. It needs to be put into context so I can make use of the information I’m given.

Would a universal label work?

When we asked what people wanted from a label, most said that they would like one universal label. They said that it’s too confusing having one for meat, another for fish and another for vegetables, for example. But is this too simplistic?

Although there is often some cross-over between logos, is it realistic to expect one label to cover everything from animal welfare to responsible use of natural resources to the interests of producers in developing countries? Or would you prefer a one-size-fits-all-approach?


All I want to know on my food labels are what ingredients are contained therein. Anything more is just extra packaging.

I really couldn’t care less what feel-good eco waffle they have decided to pretend they are committed to.
So what you are saying is true, just give it one universal label that means they are doing their morally good work vicariously. If people want to buy into that then that is their choice.

Save the planet and stop creating more packaging labels telling us that we are saving the planet!

Nanta says:
4 May 2011

By definition, if something is not “sustainable”, then ultimately it is doomed and we should move away from doomed practices as much as possible. How can someone disagree with this? Having such a label would be difficult to monitor. Would there be a governing body? Or independent groups such as Which? and The Soil Association. Either way, I’m all up for more information so I can make more informed choices (and the constant reminder that there is always such a choice to be made)…

(Oxford dictionary online says, “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources”)

Fairtrade, organic, sustainability, carbon reduction, animal welfare are all different issues with some but not always overlap.
The main problem is knowing which labels are genuine and can be “trusted” – there is nothing stopping a supplier or group making up their own impressive sounding label which means absolutely nothing.

Personally Fairtrade and “local produce” are very important issues but everyone has their own priorities.

So one label is impossible and would make informed choice even more difficult.

I tend to agree with rarrar here – there are just too many varying issues to contemplate one single label. If a product is grown organically but gives local growers a bad deal how will both be reflected on one label?

It’s a difficult one, though, because – as Shefalee says – people are confused with the current system. A logo isn’t enough to give you detailed info, so without doing your own research it’s still hard to make the right call.

But I do think there are some labels that do their job. Whenever I buy pre-packed fish I now try and look for the MSC label, for example. It’s widely recognised as the ‘fish label’ and I think many people do use this now, which does help to promote ethical fishing.

pickle says:
4 May 2011

Oh gosh – more labels? No, I don’t think so. Most people are pretty clued up about the type of food the want to buy.

Yes, but are they clued about HOW to buy it? That’s the issue for me – people know what they want but are confused about what it actually is!