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Food products: beware of greenwashing

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar6,2024

Green, natural, sustainable, carbon neutral, environmentally friendly… These ecological names are increasingly common in the food industry, but they are also sometimes misleading , noted The grocery store.

Food products: beware of greenwashing

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On the shelves of Canadian grocery stores, we find more and more products accompanied by a so-called green designation.

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Many consumers are concerned about ecology when they have to make a purchasing decision in the grocery store. However, the proliferation of green claims and logos more or less based on science does not help customers make informed choices.

With the increase in the number of “green” products, we are seeing an increase in false, misleading or unsubstantiated environmental claims, which is illegal in Canada, the Federal Competition Bureau warned in January 2022.

Moreover, a study by the International Network for Control and Consumer Protection revealed in 2021 that 40% of ecological designations published online could mislead consumers. customer base.

Just because a logo or label is not certified does not mean it is a lie. It is up to the consumer to prove that this could be false. It should be noted that the Competition Bureau has never blamed companies for fraudulent greenwashing in the food sector.

Valérie Védrines, sustainable marketing consultant for the Masse Critique organization, notes that these names are used in every way.

As proof, she cites as examples the expressions preserve the environment, the climate, biodiversity or environmentally friendly.

We also often see "respectful of the planet", "non-polluting" ;… It doesn't exist, a non-polluting product, it's impossible.

A quote from Valérie Védrines, sustainable marketing consultant

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Valérie Védrines, sustainable marketing consultant at Masse Critique, gives a workshop to UQAM students.

By the way, what is a green product? It's a bit open to your interpretation, as much as to mine, answers Julien O. Beaulieu, economist and lawyer in environmental law.

Are we talking about energy use? Greenhouse gases? Are we talking about water use? Transportation? Does this include production? There is no definition and that is a big problem. These words are not subject to any definition, they are completely deregulated, he explains.

However, consumers are not fooled. A study by Deloitte, published in June 2023, indicated that 57% of Canadian consumers do not believe most of the green product claims that companies make in relation to their brands.

However, not all certifications are bad, far from it, but you have to know how to clean up among the 400 logos and labels circulating in the food industry .

We must distinguish certifications which are official, which can be regulated by law, such as organic certification, from independent certifications such as what is certified as fair trade, for example Fairtrade , which are managed by an independent organization, but which is still paid and which is private, lists Julien O. Beaulieu.

There are self-certifications. There, it is a company which decides to self-certify itself. You might think the company has a bit of a conflict of interest. So, we must be even more wary of these kinds of allegations.

A quote from Julien O. Beaulieu, environmental law lawyer

The last category, the one that is perhaps the least credible, is that of generic claims, where we are simply told that a product is green, eco-responsible or sustainable, but without any indicator or verification. by a third party, he specifies.

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Julien O. Beaulieu, economist and environmental law lawyer.

To help consumers find their way, the magazine Protégez-Vous recently launched the Le Décoder application, which evaluates different logos.

When we evaluate an eco-label or a logo, we base ourselves on three main things, explains the head of testing at Protégez-Vous, Clémence Lamarche. First, transparency. If we go to the logo or eco-label website, will we have all the relevant information?

Then on robustness. Who does the assessment? How often? Are there any field visits carried out? And the third point is the scope: the processes, the ingredients that are used, biodiversity, workers' rights or even animal rights, says Clémence Lamarche.

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Clémence Lamarche, head of testing at Protégez-Vous.

By taking a photo of the logo, the consumer will quickly know, thanks to this application, whether it is serious or not.

Currently, we have 84 logos evaluated, of which 36 are present on food products and 27 on household cleaning products. We plan to add around thirty per year for the next few years, explains Ms. Lamarche.

Source : Competition Bureau Canada

Across the Atlantic, the European Union (EU) recently decided to ban greenwashing and advertisements for unsustainable products.

The EU notably bans generic environmental terms, for example “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral” or “climate neutral”. or "eco", without proof of recognized excellent environmental performance which justifies this mention, as well as assertions based on offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, the assertion that a product has a neutral impact, reduced or positive on the environment, according to the Parliament press release.

In Canada, Julien O. Beaulieu mentions that Ottawa is currently looking into a provision of the Competition Act which would regulate the term carbon neutral.

While waiting for stricter regulations on green designations, Valérie Védrines, sustainable marketing consultant at Masse Critique, recommends being vigilant, inform and, above all, ensure that you always have a truly critical perspective.

Gildas Meneu's TV report is broadcast on the show L'écoli on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 1:30 p.m. at ICI TÉLÉ. Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at ICI RDI.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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