It was reported in September 2012 that Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, has launched a labelling scheme, known as ‘Origin Green’, which sets out a series of sustainable business practices for companies to comply with in order to be awarded the Origin Green label. The launch of this initiative is in response to increasing consumer demand for sustainably produced food. The Bord Bia CEO commented that, following comments from industry and consumers, a harmonised sustainability standards scheme would help to consolidate the position of Irish producers in response to growing demand.
Bord Bia has set a target of three-quarters of Ireland’s food exporters to sign up to the scheme by 2014. Sixty leading Irish food and drink companies have already signed up to participate, with these companies ‘accounting for almost 50% of Irish food and drink exports’. The companies now need to develop ‘a sustainability plan that will be independently verified, before they can benefit from the use of the Origin Green branding and marketing materials’. Major firms such as Nestlé, Unilever, Sainsbury’s and Walmart have all recently established sustainability goals for their operations.
The Origin Green initiative includes carbon footprinting of farms: Bord Bia reports that it ‘has carbon footprinted 20,000 farms,… and is adding to that number at a rate of 500 a week’. The article reports that EC research has found that Ireland’s carbon footprint is ‘among the lowest… for dairy and beef production in the EU’.
Bord Bia’s own report adds that ‘an international targeted communications programme is already underway, to build awareness of Origin Green and Ireland as a source of sustainably produced food.’
The emergence of national sustainability labelling schemes shows how EU industry is seeking to tap into growing consumer concerns over the environmental impact of the production processes by which food and drink are delivered to their tables. The Bord Bia initiative is one of a number of similar national initiatives to mobilise manufacturers and retailers to establish and comply with more sustainable practices in their production, procurement, and retail operations (see Agritrade article ‘ Sustainability concerns go mainstream in Dutch fruit and vegetable sector’, 29 July 2012).
Schemes such as the Bord Bia initiative are explicitly designed to differentiate Irish food and drink products from other third-country products. The attribution of the Origin Green label is seen as a means of informing consumers of the standards of sustainability attained in the manufacturing of the products concerned, thereby allowing consumers to make informed choices.
If the use of this type of sustainability labelling scheme becomes widespread in the EU, then ACP producers, in those markets where they have an export interest, will need to pay attention to ensuring that such schemes do not systematically discriminate against ACP products that meet the same underlying sustainability standards. ACP governments will need to pay close attention to ensuring that such labelling schemes are open to all producers that meet the requisite standards, regardless of their country of origin, and are not restricted to only national producers, since this could serve to relegate imported products to lower-quality (and lower-priced) market components, in the face of growing consumer awareness of sustainability issues.