Building stakeholders’ trust in environmental labeling : transparency on methods and policy choices is paramount
Food labeling : biodiversity is a major stake
In France, two laws have set up the scene for environmental labeling : the anti-waste law for a circular economy of February 10, 2020 (known as the ‘AGEC law’) and the ‘Climate and Resilience law’ of August 22, 2021. They define environmental labeling and frame a wide stakeholder experimentation ; one of the main targeted sectors is food.
In this context, several private initiatives have emerged, including Ecoscore and Planet-Score. The environmental issues of food are MAJOR. They are also SPECIFIC. There is of course the topic of plastic packaging, with the resulting pollution of oceans. There is the issue of climate, since 30% of climate footprint of French people is due to their diet. But also the major issue of biodiversity. For millennia, our temperate forests have been transformed into cultivated lands and meadows: the eco-zone covered today by the city of Paris is called ‘Atlantic Forest’ to remind us what it was originally was, prior to human intervention. Hence, agriculture contributes 70% to the anthropogenic pressure on biodiversity .
Environmental labeling needs to account for the most up-to-date science
Regarding carbon dioxide emissions, for example, it is possible to quantify impacts of e.g. industrial processes, greenhouses’ heating, agricultural machinery’s use or air transport.
A number of scientific controversies need, however, to be adressed through value choices
One of the major controversies is about land use in agriculture. Two visions are opposed : a ‘technical’ vision of sustainable intensification, and an ‘agro-ecological’ vision. The first vision advocates an intensive use of land, with high yields, intensive inputs (synthetic fertilizers and pesticides), allowing (in theory) to preserve intact spaces for wild life : this is the vision of « land sparing », used e.g. in the EAT Lancet scenario . The second vision advocates a more extensive use, with lower yields, using less inputs (no synthetic fertilizers and low use of pesticides) allowing land to be shared with a larger number of wild species: this is the vision “land sharing”; this second vision is the basis for the TYFA scenario (‘Ten Years For Agroecology’) . A recent IDDRI report  rightly points out that the choice between these two visions is scientifically controversial. It has to be a value choice, a Political choice, in the noble sense. Towards what type of production do we want to steer consumers ? Do we want to drive them towards food products from intensive agriculture or agroecology? Depending on this orientation, the environmental labeling scheme will be different, and hence its methodological choices.
Some private schemes clearly display their vision: Planet-Score, for example, uses an agro-ecological “compass”. Ecoscore, on the other hand, falls under sustainable intensification, even if this choice is not explicit .
In order to build trust, it is paramount that the methodology be public, transparent and reproducible
Let us be clear: given the limits of science, and the controversies described above, environmental labeling involves value choices; it is inevitable. It is not an issue, if those value choices are explicit and transparent, and if the score computation is reproducible. In other words, input parameters used to calculate the score must be clearly listed and identified; calculation formulas used to come up to final score must be public. If not, what confidence can we as a Society, have in the results? What transparency? To date, the Ecoscore methodology is published, available on the web and reproducible. Regarding Planet-Score, the methodology is currently not available and therefore not reproducible. Its owners have announced it for this summer. We look forward to it, to assess its coherence and scientific robustness.
 B. M. Campbell et al., « Agriculture production as a major driver of the Earth system exceeding planetary boundaries », Ecology and Society, vol. 22, no 4, 2017, doi: 10.5751/ES-09595-220408.
 EAT Lancet commission, « Adapted summary of the Commission Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems », 2019. [En ligne]. Disponible sur: https://eatforum.org/content/uploads/2019/07/EAT-Lancet_Commission_Summary_Report_French.pdf
 X. Poux et P.-M. Aubert, « Une Europe agroécologique en 2050 : une agriculture multifonctionnelle pour une alimentation saine. Enseignements d’une modélisation du système alimentaire européen ». IDDRI, septembre 2018. [En ligne]. Disponible sur: https://www.iddri.org/sites/default/files/PDF/Publications/Catalogue%20Iddri/Etude/201809-ST0918-tyfa_1.pdf
 L. Brimont et M. Saujot, « Affichage environnemental alimentaire : révéler les visions pour construire un compromis politique », IDDRI, 08/21, 2021.