Tribune. Great ideas can work badly. This could be confirmed with regard to environmental labeling. And it’s a simple problem of ” calculation method ” which could ruin our collective ambition to inform citizens about the real environmental footprint of the products they consume. An ambition that we have nevertheless clearly affirmed, through the Climate and Resilience Law.
We, deputies and senators, voted in favor of the generalization of environmental labeling at the end of a five-year experiment, with a very clear desire: to give consumers all the keys to make informed food choices. Specifically, provide them with a better understanding of the level of overall sustainability of the foods they buy. A level of sustainability based, mainly, on the production model from which they come.
Take the example of beef. Which farming model best meets the challenge of global sustainability? Our French model based on family farms, with 60 cows fed mainly on grass, on 60 hectares on average? Or the model of feedlot American, these industrial fattening centers with 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, sometimes more than 100,000 cattle crammed and spiked with antibiotics and other growth promoters?
The answer seems obvious to us, as French legislators. The States General on Food and then the citizens’ convention for the climate were the occasion to remind people: sustainable farming is grassland farming, on a human scale, which depends little on the purchase of inputs and where the all of the herd’s food comes from the farm. A breeding that offers animals conditions consistent with their well-being. Who does not give them any chemical substance to stimulate their weight gain.
An absurd and grotesque model
However, according to the life cycle analysis (LCA) calculation method, which is dominant today in work relating to environmental labeling, it is the meats of feedlots Americans that could be presented to consumers as the most sustainable, those to turn to as a priority.
It’s absurd, grotesque, incoherent, but it can be explained technically. By relying overwhelmingly on the sole issue of greenhouse gas emissions without taking into account the carbon storage in the soil of the meadows made possible by grassland farming systems, ignoring the other environmental externalities of farming, such as that the preservation of biodiversity, by not focusing on the farming model, by simply relating greenhouse gas emissions to kilos of meat produced, this method logically favors the most industrial systems and intensive.
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The appeal of 137 parliamentarians: “The environmental labeling provided for by the Climate Act is an opportunity to make a social choice”