Labeling food for their CO2 emissions — Sweden tries it out

by Fran Smith on October 23, 2009 · 3 comments

in Odds & Ends

A new look to food labels in Sweden.  Food companies and restaurants may be listing the fossil fuel emissions that went into the production of the food.  So far, it’s an experiment to test whether people change their buying habits to purchase the supposedly eco-friendlier foods. And it may sweep not just through Sweden but the whole EU.

But the Swedish food police admit that they are some problems in balancing healthy eating with low-carbon-footprint eating.  And it doesn’t always work.  Their guidelines that form the basis for the labels tell people to eat carrots instead of tomatoes, and not to eat many bananas.  Have they not read or heard about the antioxidant properties of tomatoes? There are also a lot of questions about their methods of measuring climate-friendly production. In their view how the production contributes to the landscape is a big plus:

Cows and sheep that graze outdoors contribute to a varied agricultural landscape – open landscapes. This particularly applies to animals that graze on natural enclosed pastures, so-called natural grazing areas. Outdoor grazing also contributes to a rich diversity of plant and animal Life. Even livestock conventionally raised in Sweden contribute to a varied agricultural landscape and to a rich diversity of plant and animal life since Swedish law requires that all animals graze outdoors a certain period of time each year.
In well-forested Sweden, pastures are needed throughout the country in order to maintain landscape diversity and variation.

Some of the recommendations seem a bit off, mainly because values rather than science enter in.  For instance, in the guidelines this bald statement is made relating to their recommendations: ” Pigs and chickens do not contribute appreciably to a varied agricultural landscape or a rich diversity of plant and animal life.”  Who says so?  They certainly contribute significantly to the diversity of my diet.

Here’s an example of some foodstuffs and their emission levels:

Estimated kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents produced in a year per person with one serving per week.

Beef from dairy cows: 120

Pork: 35

Apples from New Zealand: 4

Apples from Sweden: 1

Oh, I forgot to mention that, of course, locally grown, Swedish stuff produces  lower emissions. Guidelines don’t state it but it’s implied: Imports are bad because of emissions from transportation — whether truck or ship or plane.

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