Page last updated at 23:50 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 00:50 UK

Foods 'should label up eco-costs'

By Jennifer Carpenter
Science reporter, BBC News, Liverpool

"Food flower" (T.Lang)
"Food flowers" would carry at-a-glance information

Food packaging could be embedded with computer chips that instantly link your phone to an on-line sustainable food guide, a UK conference has heard.

The guides would help consumers navigate their way through the ethical and ecological decisions about what they eat, the proponents argue.

The UK should lead Europe on this approach, food policy expert Professor Tim Lang said.

He was speaking at the British Association Science Festival.

Ethical impact

The criteria used to judge food sustainability are still up for debate.

"Do I eat green beans from Kenya, because they are good for me, or do I say no because there are four litres of water embedded in each stem of green bean?" asked Professor Lang, from City University, London.

He said scientists and policy-makers now realised the environmental, ethical, and health impacts of the food we ate.

Producers needed to find a way to present this information to the consumer, he told the conference.

He outlined a number of criteria that consumers should consider when buying food: how much energy and water are used to produce each calorie of food; what is the impact of the food item on climate, biodiversity, and the labour-force of the country it was grown in, and what are the health and financial costs of food.

Criteria agreement

"Packaging could be the point of entry for [this] information," said Professor Lang.

Information on socio-economic and environmental criteria could be presented simply through "food flowers" - diagrams where each petal represents a different impact, with the shaded area of a petal showing how highly a food item scores.

The more detailed information could be accessed from a website and uploaded from food packaging to our mobile phones.

There would, however, need to be universal agreement on which issues should be reflected in the labels.

"That needs governments to agree with companies, to agree with civil society to agree what those criteria are," explained Professor Lang.




SEE ALSO
Feeling the heat of food security
11 Aug 08 |  Science/Nature
Water everywhere, and not a drop to grow
20 Aug 08 |  Science/Nature
Challenges for the food summit
03 Jun 08 |  Science/Nature
Long era of cheap food is over
29 May 08 |  Business
The cost of food: Facts and figures
29 May 08 |  Special Reports

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific