It would be no surprise to know that many of us find some aspects of food labelling more than a little confusing. The proliferation of ‘sustainable product’ labels such as fair trade product, rainforest alliance certified or UTZ certified have become increasingly common in recent years. Then of course there are also the organic certified and the biodynamic certified products, not to mention the confusion surrounding the use of the words free range!
While some of these labels have significant meaning behind them, all of them are also marketing buzzwords. In some cases they generated by global food companies trying to win the trust of shoppers through the idea of sustainability. Clever marketers have understood for a number of years now that there is a significant market segment for these types of products. So if consumers are also able to feel warm and fuzzy for doing their bit to save the world then it may not be a bad thing.
But is this truly sustainable? I do not want to burst anyone’s bubble on this, because it is still better to be doing something than doing nothing at all, but we are not going to solve the world’s environmental problems by buying fair trade chocolate!
There is no question that all farmers deserve to get paid a reasonable amount for the food they grow and indeed the food we want them to grow, including Australian farmers. Farmers in developing countries also deserve that opportunity and Fair Trade is one way that some attempt is being made to address that issue.
Consumer advocacy group Choice has called for an audit of these sustainability claims, to end customer confusion. Why? Because certification labels have become little more than a marketing tool, or worse, an example of ”greenwashing”, where companies claim they are sustainable, with no evidence of that at all, according to Choice.
Some of these problems stem from the fact that a number of companies have developed their own certification, which clearly lacks independence wide body. If we are to have confidence in these types of food labelling claims then it is important that there is independent certification that is backed by the industry and not just an individual company.
Genuine Fair Trade, organic, biodynamic and other sustainable farming labels should be supported if those are product characteristics that you value. Just make sure they are genuine labels and support the farmers of the world.