Are new IGD guidelines on eco-labelling misleading? Organisations raise concerns about potential to cause unintended environmental consequences

The organisations raised their concerns by sending a letter to the Right Honourable Steve Barclay MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK Government.

Their letter outlined a range of criticisms of newly released eco-labelling guidelines from food sector group Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), saying they mislead consumers, are too heavily weighted towards a focus on carbon while not paying enough attention to biodiversity, soil and water health, and animal welfare, and could lead to unintended environmental outcomes.

The purpose of the guidelines

IGD’s guidelines have two main goals: to help consumers make sustainable decisions, and to help businesses provide transparent information on the environmental impact of their supply chains. The research conducted by IGD for the guidelines will inform UK Government’s consultation of ecolabelling planned for 2024. With a proliferation of different eco-labels on the market, the guidelines also aim to provide some form of framework for them to follow.

Recommendations made by IGD include to use a Life Cycle Assessment-based approach, covering climate change, water quality, water use and land use impacts of products; introduce an A-E label on products to influence consumer buying habits; and to introduce ‘robust governance’ on operationalising labelling within agreed standards. The organisation worked with technical experts and consumer research agencies, and studied existing labelling schemes, to develop the methodology.

While the letter praised the government’s plans for mandatory eco-labelling, and in particular, the efforts of the Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP), it drew up a number of criticisms of IGD’s guidelines, whose influence could be felt at policy level in future if the Government takes its recommendations into account.