The existing EU eco-label scheme has already developed criteria for products in the non-food sector, but the 2010 EU Regulation that governs the scheme aims to extend eco-labelling to EU food and feed products, including fish products. However, before extending to food products, a feasibility study had to be undertaken.
This study, which has just been published, underlines that most existing labels, such as from the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) in the case of fisheries, only concentrate on the environmental impacts of primary production and not (or only to a limited extent) on the whole life-cycle of the product. But it also highlights that, for fisheries, this primary production stage is responsible for between 70% and 95% of the total environmental impacts over these products’ life-cycles.
A key finding from a consultation of stakeholders, particularly consumers, in the preparation of the study was that an ‘environmental’ label for food, feed and drink products is expected to cover, in addition to environmental factors, social and ethical issues such as fair remuneration for producers, and animal welfare. However, as the study notes, many impacts – such as biodiversity loss, animal welfare, labour standards, fair producer prices – are not easily measured.
Regarding the processing stages of the food products’ life-cycle, the study highlights that for some products, including fish, freezing the food has environmental impacts that are linked to the consumption of energy, but that can also have a significant beneficial influence in reducing food waste. The same argument can be employed regarding other conservation technologies, such as canning. The study also looks at retailers’ influence on consumer behaviour, highlighting that, in the case of existing eco-labels for fish products, ‘the main drivers for eco-labels are the purchasing managers of retailers, not the consumers. By deciding which products to put on the shelves and how to market them, retailers can boost the sales of labelled products’.
The study suggests that an extension of the EU eco-label scheme may be interesting for those products that have significant environmental impact during the processing, transport or consumption stages or their life cycle. In the case of fisheries the study notes that: ‘A focus on highly processed products would play to the strength of the EU eco-label by covering the environmental impacts of processing, transport and consumption, while the environmental impacts of primary production could be dealt with by cooperating with existing sufficiently strict agri/fishery labelling schemes’.
ACP fish products exported to the EU are generally not highly processed, and therefore, were an EU eco-label to cover only highly processed fish products, as suggested in this feasibility study, it would not affect many ACP producers. The fact that, on the one hand, most environmental impacts for fish products are at the production stage, and that, on the other hand, EU consumers expect ‘eco-labels’ to cover social and ethical issues as well, means that ACP producers interested in getting involved in an eco-labelling scheme should focus on those eco-labels that address wider concerns than purely environmental ones.