Almost everyone agrees that greenwashing is a problem. So, in theory, having a universal methodology for substantiating environmental claims across the whole of the EU ought to draw wide support. But what if the design of that model was so flawed that it actually penalised environmental high-performers like organic?


That is a real prospect if the European Commission adopts an unmodified version of the controversial Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method as the basis for substantiating all future environmental product claims across the Union. Campaigners warn that the PEF contains serious ‘‘blind spots’ – ignoring impacts on biodiversity and pesticide use, for example – meaning that its scoring system often favours intensive farming and penalises organic.

Last year, 14 NGOs warned the Commission that the PEF effectively legitimises greenwashing. They cited examples of how the PEF model gives distorted accounts of environmental impacts. For instance, eggs from caged hens score better than free-range eggs, which in turn score better than organic eggs. All apples get a green ‘A’ ranking under the PEF, regardless of the growing system, while all beef and lamb receives a red ‘F’ ranking, however it is reared and processed.

As concern over the PEF’s shortcomings deepens, support is growing for the Planet-score scheme, a ‘planet boundaries’ based approach that produces a more holistic picture of environmental impacts. The Planet-score label is designed to be easily understood by consumers and features an overall Planet-score, an A-E grading of performance on Pesticides, Biodiversity and Climate impacts and a separate animal welfare score. As Sabine Bonnot, president of the French Institute for Organic Food and Farming, says: “A big worry is that the wrong metrics may lead to a serious mistake in the transition to more sustainable food systems. PEF simply does not tell the whole story about farming. Planet-score offers a nuanced, complete picture, rather than a path to a simplistic letter score.”

By autumn 2022, Planet-score was already working with 180 companies across 20,000 products in 11 countries. Significantly, it has attracted the interest and support of major European retailers. Planet-score also took the 1st prize in the Retail For Good (2022) initiative, and has scored highly in consumer research. Sabine Bonnot believes that whichever direction the European Commission takes with the PEF, Planet-score now has sufficient momentum to lead the way for holistic eco-labelling in Europe.

Author: Jim Manson, Natural Newsdesk Editor

Published in the BIOFACH & VIVANESS 2023 Bio Eco Actual Special Edition.

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