World Meat Congress: Carbon labels not the answer

Carbon labelling is not the answer to consumer concerns on the environment, and the industry needs to substantiate claims to avoid accusations of green wash, warned Chris Brown, Asda’s head of ethical and sustainable sourcing.

“Any claims we make on the environment, we have to substantiate. We don’t want charges of green wash in this sector,” he told delegates to the World Meat Congress.

On carbon labelling, he added: “My personal belief is not to have an individual carbon measure on every product we sell. We need to be careful about empowering consumers with information and not overwhelming them with data.

“We have enough problems explaining nutritional information without trying to explain carbon information as well. Having said that, we need to take on this challenge. Consumers want great value and safe food, but are increasingly saying they want it to be environmentally sustainable.”

And he added that consumers were looking to industry and, in particular, the retailers to sort that out for them.

The industry was not doing a good enough job on communicating the right messages, he added, saying: “We have to look in the mirror and say we’re not doing a good job of getting positive messages across.”

One example of this is the issue over water use in meat production: “On water, people saying it takes 15,000l of water to make one burger does not help us. I live on a rainy island in the Atlantic – more water falls on a cow’s back than goes into a burger.”

This view was backed up by Professor Cledwyn Thomas of the International Meat Secretariat, who said the 15,000l claim was a myth based on one publication that was never peer-reviewed.

Brown said the industry still has a long way to go: “Consumers are ahead of us on this, there’s no way anyone in this room should go away thinking sustainability is a done job.”