Ethical Food Labels Confuse Conscious Consumers

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Image credit: Which?

It's a common assumption in green foodie circles that the more information we get about our food, the better off we'll be. But that's not always the case. From labeling food miles in Japan to stickers announcing that produce is air freighted, there has been an explosion in labels, schemes and metrics designed to communicate different aspects of sustainability to the consumer. The trouble is, the consumer hasn't got the foggiest idea of what they all mean. Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent at The Guardian, writes that many ethical shoppers are confused by the competing labels and standards that are designed to promote sustainability, ethical business and animal welfare.

New research from consumer advocacy group Which? indicates that overall awareness of the nine main schemes in use in Britain is low, and that the specifics of each scheme are poorly understood. There is also a huge gap in knowledge, with some schemes like Fairtrade being at least well recognized, if not understood, and others like the Marine Stewardship Council's sustainable seafood certification only being known by 6% of shoppers.

It's a pretty depressing picture. But Which? believes the answer is not less information, just better packaged information. And it is lobbying government to make sure this happens. Sue Davies, head of policy at Which?, says it's time for Britain's new government to live up to its promises:

""The coalition government has committed to introducing 'honesty' in food labeling so that consumers can be confident about where their food comes from and its environmental impact. Which? wants to work with the government and the industry to develop a clearer approach to sustainability labeling so that consumers can easily make more informed choices."

See the full Which? report on Making Sustainable Food Choices Easier for more ideas on the proper role of labeling in a sustainable food system.

More on Sustainable Food Labeling
Organic and Air Freighted? Maybe Not for Much Longer
Labeling Food Miles in Japan Catches On. Does It Help?
Shocking Photos Reveal Organic Eggs Don't Always Come from Happy Chickens

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