Denmark is the first country in the world to develop a climate label for supermarket products

Anyone who in a few years’s stands in front of the dairy department in a Danish supermarket can see a red or green climate score on the packaging for milk, meat and wine. The Danish government is developing a ‘state-run’ climate label to help citizens make greener choices in the supermarket. The plan has been in place since 2018, and fits into the range of initiatives that Denmark wants to be climate neutral with in 2050, such as climate-friendly dietary advice for citizens.

Now the government is actually earmarking 1.2 million euros to develop a climate label, in collaboration with the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and supermarkets such as Coop. – Before Christmas, they must have a tight plan for what a Danish climate label can look like, says Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Rasmus Prehn in a press release. “So we can become the first country in the world with a state-controlled climate label.”

The climate label is an ‘interesting development’, says sustainability professor Arjen Wals from Wageningen University. “Maybe for Holland too.” The Danish government mentions research that shows that the majority of Danes want to live more climate-friendly through their food choices. Still, three-quarters of them would have a hard time determining the climate footprint of their food. Wals would not be surprised if comparable figures also apply to Dutch people. “Reliable and transparent quality labels can help,” he says.

At the moment, however, such quality brands have one big problem, says the professor. “Spreading. Labels lose their power when they have to compete with countless other brands and certificates. Then people can no longer see the forest for the trees and they fall back into the reflex of cheap and easy.” Wals admires Denmark’s efforts to counteract this spread with a unique, national quality label, which, according to the professor, can bring ‘the necessary order and direction’ to consumers’ national and eventually possible European quality label.

Doubt about implementation

However, the question is still to what extent the Danish quality brand will actually look at all supermarket products there. Take, for example, NutriScore, which has been the only permitted nutrition label in the Netherlands since 2021. The roll-out of this shows how difficult it is to oblige manufacturers to actually have such a quality label on chocolate bars or ham steaks. Organizations like the Consumer Association are arguing for a commitment to NutriScore across Europe, but the food lobby seems to want to stop this. The result is that the manufacturers themselves can choose whether they want to put such a mark on their products. “Then of course it does not help you much,” says spokesman for the Consumer Association, Gerard Spierenburg.

The fate of the Danish climate label therefore also seems uncertain. Although the Danish ministry emphasizes that the introduction of such a label must ensure that the food industry also ‘uses it on a large scale’, a spokesman also says that the label will in principle be voluntary.

The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality says that it is following developments in Denmark with interest, but does not yet have any concrete plans for a comparable Dutch climate or eco-label. Spokeswoman Elise van den Bosch says the European Commission and various Member States are also currently examining “a label that reflects the degree of food sustainability”.

Which eco-labels are already available?

Elsewhere in Europe, there are also trials with eco-labels, but not at national or European level yet. The British environmental organization Foundation Earth developed a traffic light-like ‘eco impact score’, which was launched in the UK last autumn and can now be found on around a hundred products. The plan is to expand the brand to more countries and products this year.

The Norwegian online supermarket Oda conducted an experiment where customers use their CO2footprint on the receipt, which the company said would have led to a decline in red meat sales and an increase in sales of plant-based products. Last year, Lidl experimented with an Eco Score devised in France on its coffee and tea products. The supermarket chain is ‘still in the process of investigating’ the extent to which it will help customers, and will this summer decide whether the brand will come up with more products.

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