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Food Eco-Labels to Proliferate in 2013

The number of eco-labels in the food industry is expected to continue to increase in 2013 and this proliferation could have adverse consequences, according to the research group Organic Monitor.

Currently over 200 seals and logos represent some ecological, ethical, ingredient or sustainability attributes in the global food industry, Organic Monitor says.

Organic products comprise the bulk of the estimated US $75 billion eco-labeled food and drink market. Most sales are in 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.

The lack of harmonization between these standards is leading to multiple certifications and an exponential rise in organic eco-labels. Over 84 countries have introduced national standards for organic products, with most having separate organic labels.

But the mushrooming number of eco-labels could actually discourage food producers from adopting the labels, because of the growing disparity between standards and multiple certification costs, the organization says.

Consumers may also be finding it harder to distinguish between the growing number of logos and seals of organic and fairtrade products, Organic Monitor says.

Organic Monitor’s comments echo findings from a study by the International Institute for Management Development and the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne on eco-labeling for all products. The study, which surveyed more than 1,000 companies and was released in August last year, found that consumers and companies alike are becoming “confused” and “overwhelmed” by eco-labeling.

Only a minority of consumers are especially cognizant of the notion of sustainability and, as such, study authors say the idea that the average buyer will spend time sifting through eco-labels is unrealistic.

Earlier in 2012, UK retailer Tesco quit using Carbon Trust labels, a few years after promising to label all 70,000 of its products, saying the program was too expensive and time-consuming.

Research by Canada’s University of Victoria, published in 2011, found organic eco-labels for seafood are often better indicators of a product’s green credentials than industry eco-labels or those assigned by retailers such as Whole Foods or Marks & Spencer.

In 2011 chemical company BASF launched a website to help customers compare the crowded world of eco-labels and certifications.

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