Proposed Label Would Allow Consumers to Compare Sustainability of Food Items

Researchers in France say the label would grade foods' environmental footprint based on its farming practices, biodiversity impact and effect on climate change.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Sep. 14, 2021 10:20 UTC

Consumers will one day be able to quickly choose among the food prod­ucts sold on super­mar­kets’ shelves based on their envi­ron­men­tal impact.

Researchers in France have cre­ated the Planet-Score front-of-pack label (FOPL) that rates food items based on their farm­ing prac­tices and impacts on bio­di­ver­sity, ani­mal wel­fare and cli­mate change.

The cre­ation of such logos is essen­tial to inform the pop­u­la­tion, espe­cially because (the envi­ron­men­tal impact), depend­ing on the food, is less intu­itive for the gen­eral pub­lic than its nutri­tional qual­i­ties.- Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, research direc­tor, French National Agricultural Research Institute

In a report sent to the French gov­ern­ment for eval­u­a­tion, the cre­ators of Planet-Score explained that the FOPL rep­re­sents a viable answer to the grow­ing inter­est shown by con­sumers regard­ing the impact of food pro­duc­tion on the envi­ron­ment.

See Also:Pilot Project Will Test New Eco-Label for European Food Packages

The researchers hope that the new label will be adopted in France by the Ecological Transition Agency (ADEME), which recently put out a call for these types of labels to be cre­ated. Ultimately, the researchers hope the labels will be adopted through­out Europe.

While pre­vi­ous eco-labels have high­lighted the envi­ron­men­tal impact of a spe­cific prod­uct, Planet-Score will allow con­sumers to com­pare the dif­fer­ent envi­ron­men­tal impacts of dif­fer­ent types of food items.

For exam­ple, the researchers said a fruit juice could be com­pared to other fruit prod­ucts or dairy and meat prod­ucts.

The cre­ation of such logos is essen­tial to inform the pop­u­la­tion, espe­cially because [the envi­ron­men­tal impact], depend­ing on the food, is less intu­itive for the gen­eral pub­lic than its nutri­tional qual­i­ties,” Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, a nutri­tional epi­demi­ol­o­gist at the Sorbonne Paris Cité and the research direc­tor of the French National Agricultural Research Institute, told Olive Oil Times. She has not been directly involved in the devel­op­ment of Planet-Score.

According to its cre­ators at the French Institute of Organic Agriculture and Food (ITAB), for­mu­lat­ing the Planet-Score rat­ing sys­tem has been chal­leng­ing due to the com­plex­ity of all the data – sourced from the Agribalyse data­base – used to deter­mine the scores.

Previously using Agribalyse, ADEME clas­si­fied thou­sands of food prod­ucts based on their envi­ron­men­tal impact. However, ITAB offi­cials said some of its dataset char­ac­ter­is­tics have to be cor­rected to use in Planet-Score.

To design a logo, it is nec­es­sary that the data used to build it is very robust and takes into account all the para­me­ters related to envi­ron­men­tal pres­sures,” Kesse-Guyot said. The cur­rent state of the sci­en­tific data allows very cor­rectly to con­sider the car­bon foot­print of diet. However, for other impacts, it is much more com­pli­cated.”

ITAB is work­ing with Sayari and the Very Good Future research orga­ni­za­tions to re-frame the data avail­able from a broad set of sources and imple­ment new indi­ca­tors to deter­mine the aggre­gate score of food and pro­duc­tion sys­tems for Planet-Score.

According to Planet-Score’s pro­po­nents, the cur­rent ADEME method­ol­ogy based on life cycle assess­ment does not suf­fi­ciently con­sider the wide range of ele­ments needed for such a label.


Photo: Institute of Organic Agriculture and Food

Among the most crit­i­cal issues in deliv­er­ing such a score is the rat­ing of food’s impact on bio­di­ver­sity.

Biodiversity is an issue that can­not be left aside, and cur­rent knowl­edge does not allow this notion to be linked to food,” Kesse-Guyot said.

The ITAB researchers con­firmed that bio­di­ver­sity is very poorly taken into account” by the cur­rent eval­u­a­tion approaches. Biodiversity’s major dri­vers, explained the researchers, are habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion, cli­mate change, pol­lu­tion, over­ex­ploita­tion of species and inva­sive species.

The researchers wrote that the data needed to eval­u­ate a food item’s Planet-Score prop­erly would also have to con­sider ani­mal wel­fare, pes­ti­cide use and waste gen­er­ated from food pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion. All of those have to be inte­grated into the final homo­ge­neous rat­ing scheme.


Planet-Score will also present a sum­ma­rized rat­ing based on a five-let­ter col­ored scheme, with the Green A” rep­re­sent­ing the best score and the Red E” the least one.

The idea of the new Planet-Score has been wel­comed by some Italian olive oil pro­duc­ers, many of whom have pre­vi­ously opposed other label­ing schemes, such as the Nutri-Score. Created in France and now used in sev­eral European coun­tries, Nutri-Score is a FOPL focus­ing on the nutri­tional pro­file of food rated with an A‑to‑E col­ored scale label.

Organic olive oil is likely to receive a high rat­ing from Planet-Score as olive trees are very effec­tive at seques­ter­ing car­bon diox­ide and tra­di­tional olive groves may be cul­ti­vated to restore bio­di­ver­sity to cer­tain habi­tats.

We wel­come all poli­cies that can help guide and edu­cate the con­sumer towards con­scious choices which can defend the planet,” said Anna Cane, pres­i­dent of the olive oil group within the Italian Association of the Oil Industry (Assitol).

However, she added that we must make sure that a new poten­tial FOPL can be eas­ily under­stood by the con­sumer and that the rules it is based on are har­mo­nized among the inter­ested coun­tries.”

If that were not to hap­pen, we could gen­er­ate con­fus­ing labels, which already hap­pens with other food logos that cre­ate more com­plex­ity for oper­a­tors while not ful­fill­ing the goals to which they were directed,” she con­tin­ued.

Kesse-Guyot said that an addi­tional chal­lenge is intro­duc­ing Planet-Score with an inclu­sive approach, given the com­plex­ity of the data involved and the dif­fer­ent robust­ness of the datasets used to deter­mine such a score.

For the imple­men­ta­tion of such logos, it is cru­cial it should not be done too quickly at the risk of leav­ing out the less doc­u­mented ele­ments,” she said.

However, Planet-Score already has been wel­comed by sev­eral non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and envi­ron­men­tal groups.

On its web­site, ITAB researchers high­light how their pro­posal is to be con­sid­ered a first step. They hope the French and the inter­na­tional sci­ence com­mu­nity will help fur­ther develop the score to achieve a sus­tain­able food tran­si­tion.”

We con­sider Planet-Score a for­mi­da­ble tool to lead towards a more con­scious approach to the whole ecosys­tem of farm­ers, pro­duc­ers, trans­form­ers and dis­trib­u­tors,” ITAB researchers con­cluded.

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