Landmark Foundation Earth project launches to issue environmental scores on food products

26th June 2021

Global food giants and a group of Europe’s leading supermarkets have teamed up with the world’s top food and environmental scientists to form a new non-profit organisation that will issue front-of-pack environmental scores on food products from this September.

Foundation Earth is the brainchild of Denis Lynn, the Northern Irish food entrepreneur who tragically died in May 2021 following a freak quadbike accident.

M&S, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op join the world’s biggest food company Nestlé, protein giant Tyson Foods and Spanish supermarket Eroski on the Foundation’s industry advisory group, each signing up to “explore the potential for environmental labelling on food products and to support Foundation Earth’s ambition to help build a more sustainable food industry”.

A pilot launch will see a group of Europe’s leading food brands launch front-of-pack environmental scores on a range of products this September – while the world’s largest food business, Nestlé, is supporting an intensive nine-month development programme to prepare the Foundation for full Europe-wide roll out in 2022.

Lynn’s firm Finnebrogue Artisan, which owns Britain’s biggest bacon brand Naked, is one of the first-mover food producers adding eco-scores to their products this Autumn, in advance of COP26.

The UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change has warned the food industry already contributes up to 37 per cent of global greenhouse gases and that, without intervention, these are likely to increase by another 30 per cent by 2050, due to increasing demand from population growth.

Foundation Earth has brought together the world’s two leading systems for measuring the environmental impact of an individual food product and communicating the information clearly and simply to consumers via a front-of-pack score. Its aim is to promote more sustainable buying choices from consumers and more environmentally-friendly innovation from food producers, who will be determined to secure a better score.

The Foundation’s pilot launch this Autumn will use a traffic-light style system inspired by work from Oxford University researchers and developed by life cycle assessors at Mondra.

The pilot will run in parallel to an intensive nine-month development programme, supported by Nestlé, that will combine the Mondra method with a system devised by an EU-funded consortium of Belgium’s Leuven University and Spanish research agency AZTI.

The Mondra and EIT Food systems are unique globally, in that they both allow two products of the same type to be compared on their individual merits via a complete product life cycle analysis, as opposed to simply using secondary data to estimate the environmental impact of an entire product group.

Experts say this method of individual assessment using primary data is crucial to encourage sustainable innovation in the international food supply chain.

The Foundation Earth R&D programme will produce an optimum and fully automated system for use across the UK and EU by Autumn 2022.

Leading food and environment scientists from across Europe have teamed up to form the Foundation’s scientific committee, which will be chaired by Professor Chris Elliott OBE, the scientist who led the British Government’s investigation into the horse meat scandal.

UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice MP, welcomed the launch of Foundation Earth. He commented:

“Foundation Earth’s ambitions to develop eco-labelling on food has the potential to help address the urgent challenges of sustainability and climate change.

“The Government continues to support the industry to become more sustainable, for instance through our funding for the Waste and Resources Action Programme and support for the Courtauld 2025 initiative, which aims to cut carbon, water and food waste in the food and drink sector.”

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Luke Pollard MP, said:

“I support the launch of an independent organisation that will issue front-of-pack environmental scores on food products. We know food production can be a contributor to both carbon emissions and biodiversity loss, so this will help people make more informed choices.

“People want to do what they can to tackle the climate crisis and help the environment. But at the moment they don’t have the information they need to make more sustainable buying choices. I want to see clearer labelling on carbon and environmental credentials so people can back the brands and products doing the right thing by our planet.”

Professor Chris Elliott OBE, the UK’s leading food scientist and chair of the Foundation’s scientific advisory committee, said:

“The development of a more transparent, sustainable global food supply system is of huge importance to the health of our planet and health of all citizens. We need a system based on the core principles of integrity. 

“I’ve been delighted to support the work of Foundation Earth to develop the sustainability label and am very proud to chair the Scientific Committee going forward.”

In a mark of the multi-national support for the Foundation, Foundation Earth is also being backed by EIT Food, the European Commission’s multi-million Euro food innovation initiative.

Andy Zynga, chief executive of the EU funded food innovation initiative EIT Food, commented: 

“The launch of Foundation Earth is a very significant moment for the European food industry. It is the culmination of years of work from our EIT Food consortium and from the likes of Oxford University. It will bring about a credible and clear front-of-pack environmental labelling system on food products right across the continent. 

“In supermarkets throughout the European Union, consumers are trying to make more environmentally-friendly choices – and food is at the heart of this. Foundation Earth has brought together the major players from the world of science, food production and retailing and will provide consumers with the tools to drive sustainable innovation. 

“Supported by the European Union, EIT Food works to accelerate innovation to build a future-fit food system that produces healthy and sustainable food for all. Foundation Earth will help us do just this.”

Johannes Weber, European Affairs manager at Nestlé, commented:

“Nestlé is committed to building a more sustainable food system and providing consumers with the best information to make sustainable choices. These choices will drive the innovation we need to see across our food industry.

“This pan-European scientific project will help us to further develop the concept of communicating the environmental impact of our food and beverage products. Foundation Earth will provide us with the opportunity to test environmental footprint methods, learn how different products perform and establish how consumers respond. We hope this could help inform discussions in Europe with regards to a harmonised system for environmental scores.”

Former cabinet minister Chris Grayling MP, who currently has a private members bill in the House of Commons calling for environmental labelling of food and drink products, said:

“Environmental labelling of food products is long overdue and something I have been calling for now for some time. Consumers need clear and credible information they can trust so they can make more sustainable buying choices. I am delighted to support the launch of Foundation Earth, which is championing a really innovative proposal, has brought together the leading experts and has secured support from major food industry players across Europe that will be essential to driving this agenda.

“I applaud the companies that are taking part in the pilot launch this Autumn and hope it will prove to be a really positive step in the right direction. To build a more sustainable planet, reduce carbon emissions and minimise biodiversity loss we must build a more sustainable food industry. Foundation Earth’s front-of-pack scoring system provides us with the potential to drive positive change in a commercially viable way.”

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