For food labels, first calories, now carbon footprints?
Folks who balk at requirements that restaurants post nutrition data on their menus are going to love this idea: In addition to providing information about calories and fat content, how about an assessment of the food's impact on the environment?
The ratings tie in with a larger effort by the Swedish government to link personal and environmental health. The Swedes have issued guidelines for evaluating more than a dozen kinds of food, from fruits and berries to chicken, pork and beef, for their effects in both realms.
Those guidelines are being circulated among experts in other European nations. Should the guidelines and the new labeling system (which was created by farmer and food-labeling organizations), be embraced across the European Union, millions of people may find themselves thinking about greenhouse-gas emissions and varied agricultural landscapes as they shop for their suppers.
This is, of course, hardly the first time it's been pointed out that our food choices have environmental repercussions. Michael Pollan's been saying so for years; the movies King Corn and Food, Inc. traced food-production's effect on the environment.
But the new labeling system, should it go into widespread use, would give consumers the opportunity and burden of considering the broader implications of their food choices.
That may be a good thing, as long as environmental concerns don't steer people away from foods that are best for their personal health. From what I can see, that doesn't seem to be the case. For instance, the report cautions that certain species of wild-caught fish are in short supply and should be avoided, but it still recommends eating fish two or three times a week and offers environment-friendly options.
Otherwise, the report favors potatoes over rice and carrots over tomatoes. Overall, locally produced and organic foods are better for the environment than those shipped long distances, the report suggests.
I have to wonder, though, just how much information consumers can be asked to absorb when making food purchases. There's always the danger that overloading menus and grocery shelves with helpful suggestions might make people tune out food labels altogether. And that would be counterproductive.
What do you think about posting environmental-impact data on menus and food labels? Vote in today's poll and opine in the comments section.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
October 26, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness
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