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A step forward: supermarkets may soon have eco-food labeling

September 26, 2022

In many countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland, supermarket shoppers will soon be able to check the environmental impact of food before putting it in their trolleys, thanks to new research. Today, food markets only have to list their main ingredients – by percentage, not quantity.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have assessed the environmental impact of 57,000 food items — a first step towards introducing eco-labels on food. They have used public databases to estimate the composition of thousands of food products and their impact. 

According to the results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team developed an algorithm to calculate an eco-score for the environmental impact of individual food and drink products. Pairing it with a measure of nutrition shows a tendency for more nutritious foods to be more environmentally sustainable, and that like-for-like substitutes can have highly variable environmental and nutritional impacts.

“By estimating the environmental impact of food and drink products in a standardized way we have taken a significant first step towards providing information that could enable informed decision-making.”, Dr Michael Clark, who led the research, said.

The authors also say that the most effective way to communicate a food product’s environmental impacts still needs to be determined, including what portion size to use for different products, which environmental indicators to use, and how uncertainties in a product’s environmental impacts may be communicated, and whether multiple environmental indicators should be aggregated into a single composite environmental impact score.

Source: PNAS | BBC