CFA plays an active and often leading role in environmental issues including waste and climate change-related matters. For several years we have been closely involved in numerous sustainability activities and initiatives including running workshops with Defra on issues relating to its Food Industry Sustainability Strategy (FISS) and pursuing research which would facilitate carbon footprint reductions. CFA was also a member of Defra’s FISS Champions Group on Waste, which was chaired by a CFA member.

Climate change is increasingly recognised as a major challenge and it is widely accepted that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are having a negative impact on the environment.

Carbon footprint labelling is a recent development whereby a product label will show how many grammes of greenhouse gases were emitted during production, from sourcing raw materials, to manufacturing, transporting to the stores and to the end of life.

For the chilled food sector, we believe that carbon footprint labelling of individual foods is misguided and potentially misleading to consumers. We favour the carbon footprinting of the business making foods which we believe to be far more relevant to identifying and addressing areas for carbon reduction than carbon footprint labelling.

Some of the reasons behind our thinking are due to the complexity of the chilled prepared food manufacturing sector, which makes carbon footprint labelling by food problematic. For example:

  1. a single site may be producing up to 100 SKUs (stock keeping units, i.e. products) each day, each of which has numerous raw materials/ingredients, sourced globally and year-round
  2. the commercial life spans of chilled food recipes are typically very short, with most being less than one year
  3. many chilled prepared foods are also seasonal, with a short window of marketing opportunity
  4. the same raw material can be sourced from different countries dependent on seasonality and availability, e.g. produce
  5. some components, e.g. seasonings, may have a large number of subcomponents, e.g. spices and herbs
  6. the same product can be prepared using different cooking techniques at point of consumption, e.g. microwave, conventional oven (gas, electric or fan-assisted).

Given this, the calculation of the carbon density of any given chilled food will be complicated, time-consuming, resource-hungry and expensive. In addition, it will be confusing for consumers if the carbon footprint labelling of a food changes because of ingredient and/or sourcing changes, or because of different point of consumption preparation methods.

CFA, therefore, favours a streamlined approach and believes that within the BSI and Carbon Trust activity there should be an opportunity for businesses that have made a commitment to reduce their carbon footprint to be recognised as opposed to each product carrying carbon footprint labelling.