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Carbon Footprint Labeling for Food Manufacturers and the Restaurant Industry

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Editor’s note: This article is taken from the January 2021 edition of Food Institute report. To read more articles on food industry news, leadership, markets, commodities and regulatory issues, consider a membership in the Food Institute, which includes monthly access to the Food Institute report.

Consumers’ demand for information about the food they eat is constantly evolving. The demand for nutritional information over the past 25 years has had a major impact on the marketing strategies of the food industry.

Today, however, consumers are increasingly aware that what we eat has an impact on human and planetary health.

Food companies of all sizes, from Quorn (a producer of meat substitutes) to PepsiCo and Nestlé, are implementing or considering carbon scoring programs that educate consumers about a particular food’s impact on climate change and the environment. The trend has also spread to the restaurant industry. Panera and Just Salad have rolled out carbon assessments for many of their menu items.

The note may look like this example used by Just Salad:

Consumer interest in the environmental impact of food is likely to continue to grow, given the Biden administration’s renewed emphasis on tackling climate change. Climate change has been directly linked to global warming, which is mainly caused by the release of too much carbon into the atmosphere. These gases spread around the planet like a blanket, trapping solar heat that would otherwise be radiated into space.

About 25% of global carbon emissions come from food production. More and more consumers are recognizing that they can help prevent global and global warming by choosing foods that produce less carbon emissions.

Difficulties in implementing a carbon footprint assessment system, however, are that no federal or state regulatory body has set standards for such programs. All claims should be true and not misleading, but other than that regulatory limits can be difficult to determine.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set standards for carbon offset claims, noted at: https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/press-releases/ftc-issues-revised-green-guides/greenguides.pdf

The FTC states:

  1. Given the complexity of carbon offsets, sellers should use competent and reliable scientific and accounting methods to properly quantify claimed emission reductions and ensure that they do not sell the same reduction more than once.
  2. It is misleading to claim, directly or implicitly, that carbon offsetting represents emission reductions that have already occurred or will occur in the immediate future. To avoid deception, marketers should disclose clearly and prominently whether carbon offsetting represents emissions reductions that will not occur for two years or more.
  3. It is misleading to claim, directly or by implication, that a carbon offset represents a reduction in emissions if the reduction, or the activity that caused the reduction, was required by law.

Some of the principles underlying the FTC’s standards for carbon offsetting claims can, by way of example, be used to infer how that agency would review carbon footprint labeling claims. Other labeling policies followed by the USDA and FDA may also be analogous and provide an indication of how these regulatory authorities may respond to carbon footprint claims.

Other factors that should be taken into account when developing a carbon labeling system include:

  • Examine the impact of your company’s specific products on climate change
  • Investigate what your competitors are doing to provide carbon labeling of foods and menu items
  • Choose a reliable and credible third-party certification and standards setting program to test your products and obtain meaningful evaluation
  • Ask federal agencies to establish a level playing field and develop reasonable benchmarks

Carbon ratings could be the next big trend in food labeling. Whether carbon footprint labeling is right for your business depends on the products you manufacture, the ability to retain a reliable third-party partner for standard setting and certification, and ensuring that your program meets standards. basic legal and consistent with general principles followed by the USDA, FDA, and FTC to ensure truthful, non-misleading labeling.

Join the Food Institute and OFW Law on February 4 for our next seminar, Carbon labeling guidelines – For the food industry. The pre-registration price of $ 299 has been extended until January 25, when the price will drop to $ 349.