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Proliferation of Food Industry Ecolabels Expected To Continue in 2013

Image credit: Joshua W (flickr)

Growing consumer awareness of food production methods and sustainability issues has led to the rise in recent years of ecolabels in the food industry; over 200 seals and logos currently represent some ecological, ethical, ingredient or sustainability attributes in the global food industry. That number is expected to rise in 2013, and the mushrooming number of ecolabels could have adverse consequences, according to specialty research consultancy Organic Monitor. The company will present its latest findings on the global market for ecolabeled food and drink at the upcoming Sustainable Foods Summit.

Organic products comprise the bulk of the estimated US $75 billion ecolabeled food and drink market. Most sales are from Europe and North America, which have legally protected organic logos. However, many new organic labels are being introduced in Asia, Latin America and other regions – over 84 countries have introduced national standards for organic products, with most having separate organic labels. The lack of harmonization between these standards is leading to multiple certifications and an exponential rise in organic ecolabels.

The global fair trade movement — once united by Fairtrade International (FLO)  is also fragmenting. The departure of Fair Trade USA from the umbrella organization and the growing number of new fair trade schemes are increasing the number of logos and symbols for the movement.

Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified have well-established ecolabels for agricultural commodities such as coffee, tea and cocoa. However, new schemes are gaining popularity for such commodities – including Bird Friendly Coffee and Starbucks’ Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFE) practices. Ecolabels are also becoming visible in other product groups, such as the Marine Stewardship Council certification for sustainable seafood and Certified Humane for meat products. 

Concerns about genetically engineered foods have made the Non-GMO Project Verified seal the fastest-growing ecolabel in the US food industry. The voluntary labeling scheme is predicted to gain in popularity while the pro-labeling movement continues to fight for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. 

Resource ecolabels are also making headway in the food industry. Many carbon-labeling schemes have been introduced, while companies such as the Raisio Group are experimenting with water footprint labels. Major challenges for such ecolabels are standardization of methodologies and consumer communications. 

With the number and types of ecolabels increasing, there is concern that food producers could be discouraged from adopting ecolabels because of the growing disparity between standards and multiple certification costs. A larger concern is the effect on consumers: How can consumers distinguish between the growing number of logos and seals of organic/fair trade products, or differentiate between other ecolabels? With most ecolabels representing some ethical or sustainability attributes, a wider question is whether a new umbrella label will eventually emerge to unify existing ones. 

Organic Monitor will present the latest data and future growth projections for the global market for ecolabeled food and drink at the North American edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit  January 22-23 in San Francisco, CA. Organized by Organic Monitor, the event highlights key industry issues and explores new horizons for ecolabels and sustainability in the food industry. Participating organizations include Ecocert, FLO, Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, NSF International, Control Union, Oregon Tilth, Demeter USA, Certified Humane, Bird Friendly Coffee, Food Alliance, Carbon Free, Non-GMO Project Verified and more. 

The European edition of the Summit will be hosted in Amsterdam on June 6-7, 2013.


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]

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