Going green: new traffic light system for UK food labels will measure environmental footprint

Foods will be graded on four criteria with eco-score labelled on packaging

A woman pushes a shopping trolley as she shops in a supermarket at CAP3000 shopping mall in Saint-Laurent-du-Var near Nice as shops, schools remain closed and workers asked to work from home if possible, part of the latest French governmental measures against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, France, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
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Supermarket groceries will be labelled with their environmental effect in a traffic light system to be piloted at UK supermarkets.

Foods will be measured by four criteria including carbon emissions and their impact on biodiversity.

These will be assessed at every stage of food production from farming and processing through to packaging and transportation.

The resulting “environmental score” will be displayed on packaging, starting at some shops in Britain this year.

UK shops Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Marks & Spencer are among the retailers backing the pilot project.

Foundation Earth, the non-profit organisation running the scheme, hopes to expand it across Britain and Europe from 2022.

The innovation was saluted by the UK government, which is championing climate action in the run-up to November's Cop26 summit in Scotland.

The boom in online shopping during the pandemic has led to concerns that increased emissions from lorries will hinder the fight against climate change.

“Foundation Earth’s ambitions to develop front-of-pack environmental labelling on food has the potential to help address the urgent challenges of sustainability and climate change,” UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said.

Weighted score 

Carbon emissions account for 49 per cent of a product’s weighted environmental score.

Water usage, water pollution and biodiversity are the other three criteria, each making up 17 per cent of the rating.

Concept art published by Foundation Earth showed a range of scores from A-plus down to G, with an accompanying colour scale of green to red.

Two foods which look, taste and cost the same can have “wildly different environmental impacts”, Foundation Earth said.

The organisation said it took four years of research to fine-tune the method.

The pilot launch will allow researchers to test how customers react to the labels.

The scheme was the brainchild of Northern Irish businessman Dennis Lynn, who died in a motorcycling accident in May at the age of 63.

Mr Lynn was the founder of Finnebrogue Artisan, a food producer that supplies UK supermarkets.

Backing the new initiative, his daughters Kerry, Clare, Tara and Ciara issued an appeal to “help us finish the job our dad started”.

“Through our small little actions taken together we can shake up supply chains and drive innovation, for the sake of all our children, grandchildren and our planet,” they said.