February 26. 2024. 4:45

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Green(claims)washing: Ban climate-neutral food labels, says consumer group

Carbon neutral claims are misleading and confuse consumers, according to a new report from consumer group BEUC who call for the terms to be banned from food and drink products in the EU.

According to the new report published Thursday (9 March), and provides a snapshot of examples from across 10 member states, terms such as ‘carbon neutral’, ‘CO2 neutral’ and ‘carbon positive’ are now commonplace on EU supermarket shelves.

But these climate-neutral claims are “doing more harm than good,” the report concludes.

Slamming the claims as “scientifically inaccurate,” the report takes umbrage with the fact that these green claims are often underpinned by carbon offsetting, such as tree-planting schemes.

These schemes allow businesses to pay for carbon credits from offsetting projects to ‘balance’ out their own carbon-emitting activities in order to claim carbon neutrality rather than cutting down on emissions produced.

But the report points out this provides “no guarantees for ‘locking in’ carbon for the future,” meaning the compensatory effects of nature-based offsetting projects are “anything but guaranteed”.

“There is no such thing as a ‘CO2 neutral’ banana or plastic water bottle,” Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, said, stressing that carbon neutral claims are “greenwashing, pure and simple”.

As such, carbon neutral claims and their derivatives can give the “misleading impression” to consumers that the products on which they appear have no negative impact on the climate.

“It’s a smoke screen giving the impression companies are taking serious immediate action on their climate impact,” she added, taking aim especially at “climate-damaging meat or dairy products,” which encourages a ‘status quo’ in consumption habits.

“This is utterly counterproductive at a time of climate emergency when consumers are hungry for reliable and meaningful information to help them adopt more environmentally friendly diets,” she concluded.

Eco-score makes its entry in EU’s front-of-pack labelling debate

The European Commission registered on Wednesday (30 June) a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) calling for a “European eco-score” to inform consumers about the ecological impact of different products amid growing support for such a move in France. EURACTIV France reports.

The report comes just as the European Commission and Parliament will tackle greenwashing in the coming weeks.

On 22 March 2023, the European Commission is set to publish a proposal for the Green Claims Initiative, while the following week, the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee will vote on a proposal for empowering the consumer for the green transition.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a FoodDrinkEurope spokesperson told EURACTIV that food and drink manufacturers in Europe are “committed to improving the environmental footprint of their products and provide clear environmental information to consumers.

The representative explained that today there are a large number of labels and claims currently in use – around 230 environmental labels in the EU and 450 globally – which can confuse consumers and complicate industry efforts to make greener products.

As such, the European food and drink industry supports the development of an EU-harmonised legislative framework on green claims, which should set minimum requirements for the voluntary provision of product environmental information.

“Making and substantiating green claims in a verifiable, easy-to-understand, and comparable way across the EU will facilitate a level playing field among companies in the single market and encourage more sustainable production and consumption,” the representative concluded.