Denmark, one of Europe’s most sustainable countries, could soon launch a new environmental initiative in an afford to encourage recycling and control climate change.
Earlier this month, Minister for the Environment Lars Christian Lilleholt submitted a proposal that will be presented to the Government and likely introduced in the new climate package. According to the proposal, food packaging should be marked with a sticker to inform the buyer of that particular product’s environmental impact.
The project was already met with the approval of Danish Agriculture & Food Council (DAFC) and public reception is overwhelmingly positive, considering that Danish consumers are open towards making responsible food choices. Of course, an initiative of this scale would involve collaboration with supermarkets and certain challenges will be faced along the way. DAFC director Morten Høyer addressed the issue of nutritional value – environmental impact balance, pointing out that consumers should understand that environmentally friendly packaging doesn’t always equal healthy nutrition. For example, a certain candy wrapper can be eco-friendly, but that does not mean the product inside offers health benefits.
How will climate impact be measured for food packaging?
In order for the label to offer a complete and accurate overview of climate impact, the food must first be analyzed by an environmental agency for multiple factors:
* How much transportation did the product require before it reached the shelves?
* How much water was needed in the making of the product?
* Were pesticides used during the manufacturing process?
* What is the amount of greenhouse gases that was generated as a byproduct?
* How eco-friendly is the packaging? Was it made from recycled materials and can it be recycled as well?
This project has reportedly been in works for more than ten years, but, Morten Høyer explains, creating an effective labelling system is not without challenges. First of all, there should be centralized analysis system and secondly, consumers should have a balanced comparison between nutritional value and environmental impact.
Recycling is massively important in Denmark, as is the interest for clean, environmentally friendly products. However, people complain is that, despite their good intentions, they cannot
always tell if the food they are buying harmed the environment, because all packaging looks the same. For example, depending on the equipment used, one can of beans can waste up to four times more resources than another.
How does food influence climate change?
The concern for how the food industry influences climate change is quite recent and not as well-known as other factors, like fossil fuels. However, worrying studies reveal that our food choices influence not just our health, but also the environment. Key processes of the manufacturing and supply chain cause extensive damage to the environment, especially in the dairy and livestock industry.
New research shows that if consumers cut down on meat and dairy, the global farmland could be reduced by more than 75% and no one would be at risk of starvation. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the main cause of wildlife extinction and it is responsible for 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Even the so-called ethical meat, which is produced with low-impact equipment, is still more harmful than vegetable and cereal production.
Joseph Poore, researcher at the University of Oxford, explained that consumers are just now beginning to understand the extensive impact of food production on the environment and that eating fewer animal-derived products could help the environment more than buying an electric car or installing solar panels.
So does this mean that switching to a plant-based diet is a compulsory move for anyone who wishes to help the environment? According to researchers, the answer is yes, but there are more factors in play. Having a transparent and informative labeling system such as the one suggested in Denmark could help with this. If consumers knew that one brand of milk uses too much land and creates double the emissions compared to another brand, they would be likelier to choose the latter or consider soymilk, which is less damaging to the environment.
The whole population doesn’t need to go vegan, researchers say, but huge improvements could be made if consumers would replace the most harmful products (all animal-derived) with their plant-based alternatives. The food industries that have proven to have a negative impact on the planet include: beef herds, crustacean farms, lamb & mutton, cheese, pork and poultry meat. At the other end of the scale are their protein-packed, eco-friendly alternatives: peas, ground nuts and tofu.
Raising awareness on the climate impact of food is the first step towards making responsible choices, Danish environment experts say. As soon as consumers learn the consequences of their food choices and how much it took for a product to go from farm to plate, they will want to make the better choice and thus trigger a snowball effect, persuading manufacturers to deliver more ethical products.