Development of Eco-scoring: opportunity or obstacle for Irish beef and lamb?
Germain Milet, Market Specialist France, Belgium & Luxembourg
For years, the French food sector has been debating the launch of an Eco-Score following the model of the now famous Nutriscore. In early 2021, a collective of companies linked to the food industry (Yuka, Openfoodfacts, Marmiton, Foodcheri…) released its own private Eco-score, soon partially adopted by a handful of retailers in France and Belgium (Carrefour, Lidl, Colruyt…). In practice, the score looks very similar to Nutri-score giving each product a rating from A “little environmental impact” to E “very strong environmental impact”.
Eco-score, an obstacle for meat consumption
The Eco-score calculation is based on the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) of each product. The LCA in France and Belgium is calculated using the data available in Agribalyse, a database that contains estimates of the environmental impact of 2500 products at 6 stages of production (agriculture, processing, packaging, transport, retail and consumption) and for 14 environmental parameters (soil protection, water use, water pollution…). LCA is known to be unfavourable to meat in general when comparing food product together on the GHG emission. Critics point out that LCA compares units of products without taking into account the nutrient density and the service offered to the environment during the production cycle.
LCA favours intensive animal systems
Originally designed for industrial production and calculated per unit of output, LCA tends to favour intensive animal farming over extensive grazing systems. Poultry and pork production receives much better grading than ruminants. This is mostly because they are using less land, input consumption per unit of output is generally lower, and because their production cycle is shorter.
Benefit of grass fed meat is not taken into account
The Agribalyse database contains only standard worldwide values for the environmental impact of food products. In other words, the feeding system of the animal is not taken into account. Therefore, the pollution impact linked to feeding for a 100% grass fed animal will be the same for the same animal fed any other diet, including intensive cereal + straw. In addition, the positive impact of a production method, such as carbon sequestration by pastures, is not taken into account in the calculation nor is a better fatty acids balance or nutrient content.
Irish products could benefit from bonus system
For years, the aforementioned weaknesses of LCA generated tense debates within the French food sector. In order to correct the limits of its method, the Eco-score calculation includes 4 parameters outside of LCA. Firstly, a bonus can be given to a product produced under a scheme that guarantees an environmental benefit such as organic farming, red label or Marine Stewardship Council. Secondly, a bonus is attributed depending on the origin of each ingredient and on the general environmental policy of the country of origin. Lastly, further negative scores are applied to ingredients with a strong negative impact (such as palm oil), over packaged products or products using unrecyclable packaging.
Eco-Scoring seems to be an obstacle for meat consumption in general, particularly beef, and lamb due to the use of LCA. However, the effort made by producers operating under the Origin Green scheme could help Irish products obtain bonuses from parameters added to the calculation. Ultimately, Eco-score could potentially help Irish meat differentiate itself more from its competitors that are less engaged in sustainability.
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 The Label Rouge is a French national sign, which refers to products which by their terms of production have a higher level of quality compared to other similar products.