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August 25, 2020

Germany should introduce mandatory climate labels – government advisors

A scientific panel advising the German government on areas including food policy has set out a range of recommendations to promote "sustainable food consumption".

By Dean Best

Germany should restrict adverts of unhealthy food, levy a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and bring in a climate label to encourage consumers to make “more sustainable” choices, a panel advising the country’s government has urged.

A report compiled by Germany’s Scientific Advisory Board on Agricultural Policy, Food and Consumer Health Protection (WBAE) has called on “a comprehensive transformation of the food system” to improve the country’s record on health, the environment, animal welfare and social issues.

“More decisive policy intervention is required to help consumers make more sustainable food choices,” WBAE chairman Prof. Dr. Harald Grethe, Professor for International Agricultural Trade and Development at Humboldt University in Berlin, said.

The board, which argues Germany’s policies on food place too much emphasis on consumer responsibility, made nine recommendations, which covered areas including price incentives, labelling, school catering and organic farming.

Among the recommendations were calls for measures including a curb on the advertising to children on unhealthy foods, the end of a VAT concession on animal products and the mandatory introduction of a “climate label for all foodstuffs”.

Prof. Dr. Achim Spiller, Professor of Marketing for Food and Agricultural Products at the Georg-August University and a co-chair of the report, said: “What is required is a dedicated food and nutrition policy where the government takes a more prominent role.”

The report also called for the compulsory introduction of the Nutri-Score front-of-pack nutrition label that Germany is set to introduce this autumn on a voluntary basis.

The German government says WBAE is independent and compiles reports on subjects it selects. WBAE’s advisory board comprises 18 scientists appointed by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) for three years.

“The provision of policy advice by the WBAE is a tradition stretching back over many years and is highly regarded in the BMEL. The scientists’ analyses, recommendations and proposals play an important role in political opinion-forming processes. At the same time, they are recommendations only and are not necessarily translated into practical policies,” the BMEL told just-food.

Earlier this month, Germany said it was open to the idea of placing restrictions on ‘junk food’ advertising.

Germany food-industry association Lebensmittelverband Deutschland said it would “review and evaluate the nearly 900-page report over the next few weeks”.

However, the trade body pointed to its own announcement in May on “more sustainable food systems”, adding: “The German food industry expressly acknowledges its responsibility to make an active contribution to the even more sustainable production, refinement, processing and marketing of food.”

Nevertheless, Lebensmittelverband Deutschland said it was “critical of the approaches to state control of consumer behaviour that were expressed in the presentation of the report”.

Christoph Minhoff, the organisation’s managing director, added: “The statements that the consumer’s ‘individual action control’ is overestimated and that the state must shape it more strongly show a paternalistic view. Here, the consumer should move from a sovereign citizen to an object of political behaviour control.”

Minhoff added: “From the point of view of [Lebensmittelverband Deutschland], the important topic of a more sustainable diet must not be misused. Freedom and sovereignty for consumers and businesses must not be undermined under the guise of well-intentioned ‘care’. Rather, it is important to start at the right points in order to provide consumers with the necessary tools for a sustainable purchase decision through education. In particular, the legitimisation of state nutrition control must be examined critically, because impermissible interventions in individual decision-making autonomy are neither promising nor are they accepted by the consumer.”

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