LONDON—The already broad array of food industry eco-labels is expected to grow in 2013, potentially creating consumer confusion and inharmonious certification standards throughout globe. According to Organic Monitor, there are already more than 200 seals representing ecological, ethical, ingredient or sustainability attributes.
Organic products account for the majority of the $75 billion U.S. eco-labeled food and beverage market. Most are from North America and Europe, where organic logos are legally defined, but many new organic labels are being introduced in Asia, Latin America and other regions, creating disarray between certification standards. Consequentially, as organic eco-labels rise, more than 84 countries have introduced national standards for organic products— most with separate organic labels.
The number of Fair Trade logos and symbols is also increasing. Fairtrade International (FLO) is no longer the only identification label for certified Fair Trade products due to the separation of Fair Trade USA from the organization and increased numbers of new Fair Trade designs.
Coffee, tea and cocoa commodities are also affected. New practices like bird friendly coffee, Starbuck's Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFE) are gaining popularity against well-established eco-labels like Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified.
Sparked by the genetically engineered food controversy, the Non-GMO Project Verified seal is the fastest growing eco-label in the U.S. food industry—with product sales reaching $2.4 billion, according to Sustainable Foods Summit.
Resource eco-labels are gaining popularity—from the introduction of carbon-labeling plans to companies like, the Raisio Group's, experimentation with water footprint labels. However, standardization of methodologies and consumer communications present major challenges.
The changing culture of consumer awareness and education of food production methods and sustainability issues have proven major factors in the rise of eco-labels. In Talking Sustainability with Organic Monitor, the firm's president, Amarjit Sahota, highlights the importance of sustainability in the food industry. Sahota Stated, "There is no universal definition of sustainability per se for the food industry. Sustainability is a concept, and this is why it is open to interpretation. The important thing is that companies should realize its importance and take some sustainability actions whether it be reducing environmental footprint, creating positive social impacts, or corporate philanthropy."
Still, the concern is differences in certification standards and multiple certification costs will leave food producers hesitant to join the eco-labeling movement. Even more concerning is the affect on consumers and their ability to differentiate between the large number of organic, Fair Trade and other product logos and seals of organic. The exponential growth of eco-friendly labels also begs the question: Will a new—universal eco-label soon develop?