In the fall of 2023, food product packaging, nutritional applications and even online cooking recipes should feature an “environmental rating”, which has been the subject of experiments up to now (Eco-score , Planet-score…). This will appear next to the Nutri-score, “nutritional note”. The display will become mandatory in 2025. But how to assess this famous environmental impact? Several associations call, in a forum at “Obs”, Ademe (Agency for Ecological Transition) and the public authorities who are piloting the experimentation to be vigilant.
The Climate and Resilience law provides for the display of a score to inform consumers about the environmental impact of all consumer products, including food. We, environmental, consumer and animal welfare associations, are calling for this information necessary to accelerate the ecological transition of our production methods, but we are concerned about the method chosen by the Ministry of the Environment and the ‘Ademe for the calculation of this score applied to food products, a method which is essentially based solely on the life cycle analysis (LCA).
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All stakeholders agree that this method is not suitable for products from organic cycles. As indicated by the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae), agriculture, unlike an industrial process, relies intimately on the complexity of living things, at multiple scales, from gene to ecosystem. A display that would therefore lead to relying solely on LCA, whose evaluation methodology determines the associated impacts at the scale of a product, would not make it possible to apprehend the systemic scale of the living domain. Used alone, LCA thus tends to favor intensive production systems to the detriment of agro-ecological production. It then opposes an agro-ecological vision of French production. Current LCA methodology and practices are simply not sufficient to assess agroecological systems such as organic farming.
With this calculation method which favors products which have a maximum yield on a minimum area, the cull cow, potentially reared 100% indoors, will obtain a better environmental score than that resulting from more extensive models, from the mountains (Salers for example ) or biological with access to the outside. However, these systems provide crucial services for ecosystems: conservation of grasslands, natural fertilization, carbon storage in the soil.
The Eco-Score or the puzzle of environmental labeling
A report published by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) at the end of October 2021 also pointed out the structural methodological shortcomings and biases of LCA applied to agricultural and food products. The IDDRI thus recalls that LCA is and will remain by construction an evaluation method confined to the product scale and will never be able to approach the issues at the system scales in the field of living organisms. However, it is at these scales that the sustainability of agricultural and food systems is played out, and living organisms (agriculture and livestock) constitute on average more than 85% of the impacts of food products, or even more when biodiversity issues are properly integrated.
Environmental labeling must give clear and unequivocal results and make it possible to distinguish products within the same family of products. We cannot be interested only in the climate and the reduction of greenhouse gases, but indeed in all the factors of ecology, and in the first place in biodiversity, in the life of the soil – without which nothing living exists – to the water cycle, air quality, animal health, etc. All the criteria that guarantee the overall health of people and ecosystems as a whole. These values of respect for life constitute a common base and the technique must adapt to these values.
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The Planet-score, resulting from the work carried out by a broad collective bringing together scientists, consumer associations and environmental and animal welfare NGOs, incorporates all the requests made by NGOs and consumers for many years (biodiversity, breeding method, etc.) and developed above.
We ask that the work in progress align itself with this high level of societal requirement that constitutes the Planet-score. Science is also a social construction, it is not enough for a tool to be “standardised”, in France or abroad, for it to achieve consensus or for it to be relevant. The vision of the world offered by LCA, the reading that this technique gives of the living world, is not shared by NGOs, because it does not respect the diversity of said living beings.
Also we ask:
• the definition of a clear course for the transition of the agricultural system and diets which clearly turns its back on intensive, polluting and destructive production, and directs consumers towards production methods that respect life;
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• a display that can unambiguously differentiate the environmental impacts between foods of the same family, depending on the production systems (organic farming, extensive systems, etc.);
• precise and detailed display based on Planet-score indicators, which are essential for observing real changes in purchases, in particular the intensity of pesticide use and the display of farming methods. This labeling has also already been tried out by a large number of economic operators (supermarkets, manufacturers, etc.), who began several months ago to testify to its relevance.
The petitioners :
Act for the environment
Fair Trade France
France Nature Environment
Friends of the Earth
For an Ecological Awakening
UFC-What to choose