Not all labels deliver what they promise, is the brief conclusion of research conducted by Greenpeace, WWF and UFC-Que Choisir to determine whether consumers can rely on labels in their purchasing decisions.
As part of the study, 11 labels were divided into 3 groups: the labels related to organic farming (AB, Organic fair trade in France, Demeter and Nature and Progress), environmental labels (Agri Confidence, Zero Pesticide Residue on High Environmental Value) and sector-related labels (Blue-White-Heart, for dairy as well as for pig and poultry meat, the European protection of origin AOP (PDO) for the cheeses Comté and Cantal, Label Rouge for chickens and for pigs and Who is the Boss? for milk and for apple juice).
Pasteurized milk may also be used in the Saint-Nectaire, Cantal and Munster cheeses with AOP
The labels were then scored on 14 criteria. The labels that have the strictest requirements and the strictest controls come out of the equation best. The organic sector would have the most positive impact on health, soil quality, water consumption and animal welfare. The labels that claim an ‘eco-label’ show the least positive effects. For example, the researchers believe that the label High Environmental Value hardly scores on health and the environment (water consumption, biodiversity, air quality and climate) and there would be no improvements for a fair farmer’s income or social cohesion.
The sector labels show major differences within one and the same label. Label Rouge, for example, scores excellent for chicken. The French know that Label Rouge chickens and eggs have to meet the strictest requirements, especially in terms of range. But there is also a Label Rouge for pork and pork. The researchers call the requirements “minimalist, especially with regard to the animals’ access to ranges”. The differences are also striking in the AOPs. For example, in Saint-Nectaire, Cantal and Munster, pasteurized milk may also be processed with AOP. In contrast to the AOPs for raw-milk cheeses such as l’Abondance, Camembert de Normandie, Laguiole, Picodon and Salers, which are strictly limited to a geographical area and whose product specifications specify the breeds of cows from which the milk must come.
A label should correspond to what people expect
According to the authors of the report, this is because there is a major ‘flaw’ in the way the French certification system works. Professionals (‘les professionels’) are overrepresented in all layers of the supervision of origin and quality. And that means it National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO) cannot force them to change their product specifications. “The committees responsible for reviewing the product specifications are made up of an overwhelming majority of professionals,” the researchers write. Consumers and government representatives are hardly involved. In addition, virtually all audits are also performed by audit bodies with close links to industry professionals.
Greenpeace, WWF and UFC-Que Choisir are calling for a revision of the certification requirements (such as specifications and auditing requirements) in line with what consumers expect. A really good cheese in France is raw milk. Real animal welfare means walking out. That is why they believe that Label Rouge for chicken (where that expectation is fulfilled) should not also be applied to pigs. Just like Dutch 1-star pigs, Label Rouge pigs hardly live any different than pigs kept according to legal requirements, while a Label Rouge chicken gets three stars. They do not go together under the same label.
A label should correspond to what people expect. The organizations believe that only subsidies that match the intuition of the public are eligible for subsidy. Until then, it will continue to muddle for consumers, according to news channel FranceTVinfo in so many words in the video below: