EU Food Information Regulations: Will Better Labeling Lead to Sustainability? Georgetown International Environmental Law Review

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EU Food Information Regulations: Will Better Labeling Lead to Sustainability?

By Kaela Colwell, Staff Editor

A European Union (EU) regulation requiring manufacturers to label food and other products with greater specificity became effective December 13, 2014. In addition to helping consumers make more informed dietary choices, the new regulation is expected to benefit the sustainable palm oil movement.

Palm oil is used in a variety of products, including breakfast cereals, candy bars, pizza, cleaning agents, and shampoos. Unfortunately, palm oil production is responsible for large-scale forest conversion in the tropics and increased carbon emissions. Thus, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other interest groups have urged companies to adopt “strong deforestation-free and peat-free sourcing policies” and have asked consumers to boycott products containing palm oil derived from unsustainable sources.

“Palm oil production is responsible for large-scale forest conversion in the tropics and increased carbon emissions.”

Prior to enactment of the EU’s new regulations, concerned consumers had little way of knowing which products to choose because manufacturers were allowed to list palm oil under a generic title on ingredient lists. Under the new regulations, consumers will be able to easily ascertain whether a product contains palm oil and, if so, whether the oil was sustainably sourced.

“Prior to enactment of the EU’s new regulations, concerned consumers had little way of knowing which products to choose because manufacturers were allowed to list palm oil under a generic title on ingredient lists.”

According to Danielle Morley of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, the labeling requirement is already having a positive effect: “In the first two-quarters of this year compared with last year [there has been] a 65% increase in sales of certified sustainable palm oil.”

However, the long-term effects of the regulation remain uncertain. According to a British Retail Consortium report, retailers who have already chosen to include palm oil on labels for a number of years have reported little to no change in consumer behavior. Taking this into consideration, continued education and advocacy regarding the environmental impacts of unsustainable palm oil production are essential. Unless a majority of consumers adjust their purchasing decisions, there will be little incentive for manufacturers to seek out sustainable sources.

“Unless a majority of consumers adjust their purchasing decisions, there will be little incentive for manufacturers to seek out sustainable sources.”

A recent poll conducted by The Guardian suggests that a majority of EU consumers are willing to change their behavior. Of those polled, 86% stated that they would try to avoid palm oil while only 7% stated that the new information on food labels would not impact their purchasing decisions. The remaining 7% stated that their decision would depend on the ease of finding alternative products.

Though it is still unclear whether the EU’s more stringent food labeling requirements will have a significant influence on palm oil manufacturing practices, a majority of European consumers support the new regulation and intend to utilize the new ingredient information.

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