Organic Producers Take Eco-Score Labels to Court

IFOAM brings a lawsuit accusing Eco-Score labeling of being unfair to organic production and misleading to consumers.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 6, 2023 15:45 UTC

Organic food pro­duc­ers from the European branch of the IFOAM asso­ci­a­tion have brought a law­suit over the use of the Eco-Score food labels by a grow­ing num­ber of retail­ers in sev­eral coun­tries.

According to legal doc­u­ments pre­sented before the Paris Court of Justice, pro­duc­ers asked the court to ter­mi­nate the envi­ron­men­tal label­ing of food prod­ucts. They con­sider it unfair to organic pro­duc­tion and decep­tive for con­sumers.”

The law­suit chal­lenges the French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe), Open Food Facts, which oper­ates the Eco-Score plat­form, and sev­eral com­pa­nies actively involved in Eco-Score pro­mo­tion and imple­men­ta­tion.

In a note, IFOAM explained that the Eco-Score labels, in its view, rep­re­sent a vio­la­tion of the E.U.’s reg­u­la­tions on organic prod­uct label­ing.

More specif­i­cally, mark­ing foods with an Eco” label is con­sid­ered likely to cre­ate con­fu­sion among con­sumers (…)” when it comes to dis­tin­guish­ing food pro­duced by con­ven­tional means and organic food. Such label­ing con­sti­tutes a mis­lead­ing com­mer­cial prac­tice,” the asso­ci­a­tion wrote. Most organic prod­ucts sold within the E.U. use spe­cific labels, such as Bio.”

What is an Eco-Score?

Eco-score refers to a sys­tem or rat­ing that mea­sures the envi­ron­men­tal impact of a prod­uct, ser­vice or activ­ity. It takes into account var­i­ous fac­tors such as car­bon foot­print, energy effi­ciency, resource usage, and waste pro­duc­tion, to pro­vide a score that reflects the sus­tain­abil­ity and eco-friend­li­ness of the item being eval­u­ated. The goal of an eco-score is to help con­sumers make informed deci­sions about the prod­ucts they buy, and to encour­age busi­nesses to adopt more envi­ron­men­tally respon­si­ble prac­tices.

The law­suit also expresses con­cerns over the method­ol­ogy gov­ern­ing the Eco-Score rat­ing sys­tem, which is based on the Agribalyse data­base and Ademe’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which, like the PEF (Product Environmental Footprint) [is a] method­ol­ogy recently ques­tioned by the European Commission in the con­text of the draft Directive on green claims,” IFOAM stated.

According to IFOAM, the Eco-Score labels do not con­sider all aspects of a food’s pro­duc­tion to deter­mine its rat­ing and end up favor­ing inten­sive and con­ven­tional pro­duc­tion rather than a tran­si­tion of pro­duc­tion sys­tems towards processes that respect the envi­ron­ment and bio­di­ver­sity.”

On top of that, IFOAM claimed that the labels do not pro­vide con­sumers with rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion on the envi­ron­men­tal impacts of food prod­ucts.”

Eco-Score is a color/letter label­ing sys­tem that rates food from the most eco­log­i­cally friendly, Green A,” to the least envi­ron­men­tally friendly, Red E.” Its rat­ings are deter­mined by a series of fac­tors, includ­ing pro­duc­tion and ter­ri­tory, logis­tics and trans­port, pack­ag­ing, sea­son­al­ity and more. The goal is to raise con­sumer aware­ness about the eco­log­i­cal impact of the food they are buy­ing.

Eco-Score gives most extra vir­gin olive oil pack­aged in glass bot­tles a rat­ing of Yellow C.”

These results place glass-bot­tled EVOOs a step below but­ter-based processed snacks pack­aged in plas­tic, often given a B” rat­ing. The EVOOs have also been rated two steps below frozen French fries, which receive the top rat­ing.

Instead of fight­ing green­wash­ing, label­ing schemes like the Eco-score con­tribute to it (…),” Jan Plagge, IFOAM Organic Europe pres­i­dent, wrote in a press note.

Jacques Caplat, pres­i­dent of the IFOAM French Members asso­ci­a­tion, added that in an already dif­fi­cult con­text of infla­tion for pro­duc­ers and con­sumers, attacks on organic farm­ing, whether linked to the use of mis­lead­ing terms or biased method­olo­gies, must be stopped. Terms that are only allowed on organic food prod­ucts by E.U. reg­u­la­tions should not be used for other pur­poses, and cer­tainly not on food prod­ucts that are not very envi­ron­men­tally friendly as is cur­rently the case with the Eco-Score.”


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