They are supposed to enlighten the consumer. But in their profusion, food labels are confusing. To see more clearly, the consumer association UFC-Que Choisir on the one hand, and WWF and Greenpeace on the other, are looking through two studies on the promises of these labels, and their real benefits.
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In its analysis, the UFC scrutinized the specifications of eight dairy protected designations of origin (PDO). It is based on criteria provided by the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE): ban on the use of pasteurized milk, ban on fermented fodder and minimum threshold of cows of breeds local. Elements which, according to the UFC, must allow to meet the definition of the PDO: the manufacture according to a recognized know-how, in the same geographical area, which gives specific characteristics to the product.
Three PDOs targeted
Of the eight PDOs studied, three do not meet any of the INRAE criteria. This includes cantal, munster and saint-nectaire for which the UFC considers that “ entry-level products are too little different from industrial cheese productions ”.
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In the same study, the twelve Label Rouge products show better results. The criteria relate to the use of specific breeds, feeding, access to the outdoors and the higher slaughter age than conventional. Overall, poultry and cattle tick all the boxes, but the red label pork only fills one: diet. ” The differentiation is very weak ” compared to the conventional, judges the UFC, “For productions which adhere to the minimum conditions of the notice “.
The organization dominated by professionals
The association supports the internal organization of these labels recognized by the State. The appellations are proposed, revised and checked by the producers’ collectives. The final validation of the specifications is the responsibility of the National Institute of Origin and Quality, which depends on the Ministry of Agriculture. However, for the UFC, consumers should be more represented in the development and management of quality signs.
“The elements of comparisons seem to me reductive, reacts Michel Lacoste, president of CNAOL, which brings together the 51 dairy PDOs. It makes no sense to want to compare PDOs, since it is precisely the diversity that characterizes appellations of origin ”. In his eyes, not all territories and products adapt so easily to the production of raw milk or food exclusively to grass.
Policy officer at Synaporc, which represents companies involved in the Label Rouge porcin, Caroline Gallard qualifies the conclusions of the UFC. Red label pigs are slaughtered after at least 182 days, compared to 160 on average in conventional. Pigs have 1.2 m2 space, compared to 1 m2 for the others. “I hear that this may seem insufficient, but we cannot say that there is no differentiation with the conventional”, she explains.
Economic and social benefits
The second study, by Greenpeace and WWF supported by the Basic firm, looks at eleven food procedures, both official and private. It combines the analysis of specifications, impact assessments and interviews to rate the benefits of each label on seven environmental (climate impacts, biodiversity) and socio-economic (working conditions, human health) criteria.
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The organic labels (Organic farming, Bio-fair in France, Demeter) obtain the best results on all levels. On the contrary, the study points to the weakness of the High Environmental Value (HVE) approach, a State certification regularly criticized by environmental associations.
“The official labels benefit from the Egalim law, which obliges collective catering to integrate 50% of products from labels, points out Alain Bazot, president of the UFC-Que Choisir. The HVE certification will also be put on an equal footing with organic farming, within the framework of the aid granted by the CAP (common agricultural policy). “ These results in support,the UFC, Greenpeace and WWF call for public support to be conditioned by the real effects of labels, and not by simple ones “Intentions”.
The different types of labels
SIQOs, official signs of quality and origin. The criteria are proposed by producer organizations, then validated by the State. Controls are carried out by certified organizations. There are appellations of origin (the European AOP – “protected” – and the French AOC – “controlled”), the red labels or organic farming (AB).
The other valuation methods controlled by the State. The terms “Mountain”, “Farmer”, “Country product” or “from a farm with high environmental value” (HVE), are subject to compliance with certain criteria set by decree.
Private procedures, national or international, supported by associations or companies, like Demeter, Nature & Progrès, Bleu-Blanc-Cœur or C’est Qui le Patron? They determine their own specifications.