Knowledge for better food systems

RELU briefing: Does carbon labelling give developing countries a bad deal?

As part of the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) Programme, researchers at the universities of Surrey and Bangor investigated the wider implications of including details of carbon footprints on food labels. This briefing paper summarises the key findings and also refers the reader to the papers upon which this briefing paper is based.
As part of the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) Programme, researchers at the universities of Surrey and Bangor investigated the wider implications of including details of carbon footprints on food labels. This briefing paper summarises the key findings and also refers the reader to the papers upon which this briefing paper is based. At least 16 different methodologies for calculating the carbon footprint of food products have been developed since 2007, but as yet there is no international agreement on the single best method. The paper warns that schemes do not take into account wider environmental and social issues and so are not necessarily indicators of overall sustainability; if consumers in developed economies respond by avoiding products from developing countries this may lead to unintended consequences. The paper explores reasons why the introduction of carbon-labelling could have particularly serious, and often unfair, implications for developing countries that export food crops. It outlines steps that could be taken to reduce the overall carbon footprint of foods produced by developing countries. The paper also says that more precise and accurate databases of land use and emission factors for developing countries need to be made available.
 

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