Meat should carry water labels, says report

Consumers need more information about the impact of water-intensive foods such as meat, says a new report.

The report, produced by the Food Ethics Council (FEC) for Sustain to identify the best way to ‘score’ products on water issues, warned that “water scarcity will be one of the most pressing environmental, social and economic challenges of the coming decades”.

It identified meat as a particularly water-intensive food and called for food labels to include details of food companies’ water stewardship.

Co-author Tom MacMillan said: “Public awareness of water scarcity remains low. In the UK, citizens are rarely exposed to the direct effects of severe water shortage and cannot readily see the links between their purchases and water shortage in other countries. Water use is not reflected in the price of the final product.”

The report rejected water footprinting on the basis that it is “important to look not only at how much water is used, but where and what impact it has”. It recommended that labels should instead focus on good water stewardship, based on criteria such as water efficiency and conservation.

Sustain will use the FEC’s recommendations to develop a multi-criteria sustainability label for food products, which will also provide grading on a number of other issues.

“This information should go alongside other vital elements of sustainability, such as greenhouse gases, nutrition and Fairtrade, so people can get a full picture of the impact of the food they buy,” said Sustain co-ordinator Jeanette Longfield.