Global food giants such as Nestlé, alongside retailers including M&S, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s, are among the members of a new non-profit organisation, Foundation Earth, that will roll out front-of-pack eco-scores on food from September.
It is the brainchild of the late Denis Lynn, founder of Finnebrogue Artisan.
Denis, who died in a tragic accident in May, devised the scheme’s concept, which is now being widely accepted.
Finnebrogue Artisan, which is based in Downpatrick, County Down, is a leader in plant-food and healthy foods such as the Naked bacon, ham and sausages.
The initiative is also backed by Mash Direct, the County Down-based producer of vegetable sides and convenience foods.
The scheme, in addition, includes Professor Chris Elliott of Queen’s University, Belfast, a global expert on food safety.
The labelling scheme will draw on data from the world’s two leading systems for measuring the environmental impact of food production – devised by advisory company Mondra and the EU-funded food innovation initiative EIT Food.
The foundation will roll out a pilot of its traffic light-style scores on products sold by M&S, Costa Coffee and a group of the UK’s leading food brands in September, using data from the Mondra method, outlined in a paper published by researchers at Oxford University and Swiss research institute Agroscope in 2018.
It is aiming for a full rollout of the labelling scheme across Europe from next year.
Measuring criteria, including a product’s carbon emissions, water usage, impact on biodiversity loss and water pollution, the scheme will also analyse a product’s environmental impact from farming, processing, packaging and transport.
The foundation aims “to promote more sustainable buying choices from consumers and more environmentally friendly innovation from food producers, who will be determined to secure a better score”.
Alongside Nestlé and the three UK supermarket chains, protein giant Tyson Foods and Spanish supermarket Eroski are on Foundation Earth’s industry advisory group.
Each business has signed up to “explore the potential for environmental labelling on food products and to support Foundation Earth’s ambition to help build a more sustainable food industry”.
A separate scientific committee will be led by Professor Chris Elliott.
In addition to the September pilot, Nestlé is funding an intensive nine-month research and development programme to prepare the foundation for a full Europe-wide rollout by the autumn of 2022.
The R&D programme will combine the Mondra scoring method with a system devised by an EIT-funded consortium of Belgium’s Leuven University and Spanish research agency AZTI.
Foundation Earth said the Mondra and EIT systems were globally unique, because they both allowed two products of the same type to be compared on their individual merits via a complete product life cycle analysis, as opposed to simply using secondary data to estimate the environmental impact of an entire product group.
It said the scheme would “create a universal eco-labelling scheme that is based on good science and that customers can easily follow”, said M&S.
Denis Lynn’s daughters called on the rest of the food sector to support the initiative and “help us finish the job our Dad started”.
UK Environment secretary George Eustice said the foundation’s ambition to develop a universal eco-labelling scheme had “the potential to help address the urgent challenges of sustainability and climate change”.
M&S head of food innovation Dominic Darby, a former member of the Finnebrogue Artisan team, added that the retailer – one of the first to launch front-of-pack nutrition traffic lights – saw “real power in the collaboration between supply chains, manufacturers, brands and retailers to create a universal eco-labelling scheme that is based on good science and that customers can easily follow”.