Green labeling dispute boils over as IFOAM takes legal action against “misleading and unfair” eco-score
27 Jan 2023 --- IFOAM Organics Europe is taking legal action before the Paris Court of Justice to defend the integrity and reliability of green labeling on food products. The organic food and farming organization is suing the French ecological transition agency and a group of companies who use the “eco-score” labeling initiative, branding the scheme misleading and confusing to consumers while being unfair to organic producers.
IFOAM demands the trademark is terminated in the latest disagreement over using certain phrases on food labels. Its argument centers on the use of green credentials and precisely what it means for a product to be considered organic.
IFOAM Organics Europe and its French affiliate are challenging ADEME, the French Agency for Ecological Transition as well Yuca, operator of the Yuka platform, ECO2 Initiative, operator of the Etiquettable platform, and the Association Open Food Facts as operator of a platform.
They all use the “eco-score” label, which indicates a product is “green” and eco-friendly.
However, IFOAM is concerned over the growing number of such labeling schemes in several EU countries and believes it has a better system called “Plant Score.”
As the official organics body in Europe, the organization stresses that it’s more important than ever to better inform consumers about the environmental value of their food choices.
But this must be done in compliance with the European legislation on organic farming as regards the terms used.
“The eco-score is a private labeling initiative which is part of a French experimentation to help the government to decide what should be the reference labeling method for the impact of all food products. It is already tested and displayed on several ranges of products,” Eric Gall, deputy director of IFOAM Organics Europe, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“The problem is that it does not take into account many externalities linked to food production systems.”
“Planet Score is another private labeling initiative part of the experimentation. This one is developed by some of our members, with a more comprehensive methodology,” he flags.
IFOAM believes that consumers who see a product with an eco-score label may confuse it with an organic product, and the use of the diminutive “eco” is reserved to organic products, according to theEU organic regulation.
“Consumers who see organic products with a bad eco-score grade will be confused or think that organic is bad for the environment,” Gall continues.
Organic producers feel that this eco-score labeling contradicts the organic regulation, is misleading consumers, and makes for unfair competition. “We also consider that the methodology behind the eco-sore is biased in favor of products from intensive agriculture.”
Gall also notes that eco-labeling must follow a methodology that takes into account all the externalities linked to different modes of agricultural production, particularly biodiversity.
FoodIngredientsFirst has reached out to eco-score for a response.
A significant driver of organic is consumers’ desire for a greater degree of transparency into exactly what goes into (and what doesn’t go into) a product labeled “organic.”
Consumers have high expectations of information systems, like labels, related to the environmental impact of products and services.
According to Innova Market Insights, the use of organic ingredients in food and beverage launches is increasing globally, featuring a 5% year-over-year growth when comparing 2020 and 2021 launches.
What’s in a name?
This is not the only labeling dispute currently in the spotlight in the F&B industry.
Earlier this month, ProVeg International spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst about the possibility UK government officials could tighten up labeling rules for dairy-free plant-based alternatives, effectively banning dairy-like terms such as “milk” and “butter.”
The plant-based advocates also believe the US Food and Drink Administration is pondering plant-based wording restrictions.
By Gaynor Selby
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