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Foodwatch report: What food companies call »climate neutral«


"CO2-neutral" or even "climate-positive": Many companies advertise their products with special promises. On closer inspection, however, little remains of this, as a report shows.

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Four products criticized by Foodwatch: Hipp baby porridge with beef, Granini orange-mango juice, Volvic mineral water and Aldi milk

Photo: Foodwatch

The world climate conference COP27 ended with sobering results - many are likely to ask themselves what they can do to protect the climate if the world community is already failing.

Practically, more and more companies are offering CO2 indulgences: for example, less than 70 euros should be enough to fly to Mallorca with the family with a clear conscience.

A small automobile club, in cooperation with the agricultural company BayWa, is paying to plant trees in a German »climate forest«.

For 250 euros a year, the SUV is said to be “climate-neutral”.

Now you can perhaps get rid of your own car and avoid air travel.

On the other hand, everyone needs food, and it is particularly difficult for consumers to estimate the extent to which cultivation, production and transport affect the climate.

The food industry has recognized this and is increasingly advertising products with promises such as "CO2-neutral" or even "climate-positive".

What that means exactly is difficult for consumers to understand - more than two thirds trust that "climate-neutral" products are really environmentally friendly.

However, the statements are hardly reliable and truthful, as the consumer organization Foodwatch reports in a new "climate report".

SPIEGEL has also written about the lack of transparency on the part of the providers of CO2 compensation, about the sale of indulgences with forest projects and about resistance from the countries in which trees are planted.

And also about how corporations count on low CO2.

For the current report, Foodwatch examined the profitable network of CO2 compensation and exemplarily five products from the German food retail trade.

Rauna Bindewald from the organization draws a bitter conclusion: "Behind the climate-neutral label is a huge business from which everyone benefits - just not climate protection."

And this is how the business with a clear conscience works:

The extent

Advertising with climate promises is not a niche: the European Commission had more than 1,400 foods examined in 2020, and every tenth product made a climate claim.

For eggs and olive oil it was even one in four, for milk, orange juice, tomatoes and rice about one in six.

In fact, the food sector is relevant for the CO2 balance and causes around 30 percent of German greenhouse gas emissions.

Cows emit the climate-damaging methane, while crude oil is needed for the production of fertilizer, for the operation of machines and for packaging.

The procedure

According to the Foodwatch report, many food manufacturers do it like private individuals – they buy CO2 credits from projects designed to help the climate.

To do this, trees are planted, rubbish collected or compost created - all good for the environment and climate, but does not avoid the emissions that arise during the production of the food.

In addition, the burning of carbons such as gas or oil is permanent, while newly planted trees may burn down again, be uprooted by storms or felled.

In a larger study, the Freiburg Öko-Institut analyzed hundreds of so-called climate protection projects in 2016.

The result: Only two percent are very likely to keep what they promise.

The others do not meet the requirements: The amount of CO2 savings is based on unverifiable scenarios and forest projects can count trees twice even though they only contribute once to climate protection.

The network

Climate seals are good business, last year more than a billion dollars were sold with the sale of CO2 credits.

And an entire ecosystem benefits from this.

Project operators

like BayWa with the "climate forest" sell credits for their companies.

Foodwatch took a closer look at Peru's Tambopata forest conservation project and estimates it raised $55 million.

According to the project operator, 30 percent of this should go to Brazil nut farmers so that they do not cut down the rainforest out of economic need.

In the first ten years of the project, however, the farmers did not receive any money, but, according to a company involved, "training in the cultivation, harvesting and processing of Brazil nuts" and other aid.

Foodwatch points out that deforestation has not decreased since the project began, but has almost doubled.

Operators of standards

such as the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) or the Gold Standard check the projects and, if successful, award a seal.

They pay well for that, the VCS administrator Verra spent less than half of the income in 2020.

Certifiers/experts and rating agencies:

Companies such as TÜV, SCS, S&A Carbon and others check whether the project operators comply with the standards - for a fee, of course.

Also in the game: rating agencies that give individual projects credibility ratings – also for money.

Between project operators and companies that want to adorn themselves with "climate-neutral" advertising, there are


who broker the CO2 credits - and pocket a hefty margin.

Foodwatch estimates the surcharge in at least one case to be more than 75 percent, other intermediaries apparently secure an even higher margin.

the indulgence

CO2 credits are not only the easiest, but also the cheapest way for companies to present themselves with a climate-conscious image: in 2021, »climate neutrality« cost an average of just four dollars per tonne of CO2.

Five examples:

Foodwatch examined five foods more closely: "climate-positive" baby porridge with beef from Hipp, "climate-neutral" milk from Aldi, "climate-neutral" water from Volvic, "CO2-neutral" fruit juice from Granini and "climate-neutral" salami-frozen pizza from Gustavo Gusto .

Consumer advocates all consider this to be misleading:

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Photo: Foodwatch

  • Danone

    advertises its


    mineral water as "carbon neutral" even though it's packaged in single-use plastic bottles and imported hundreds of miles from France.

    Foodwatch points out that consumers may find the Danone product to be more climate-friendly than tap water - which would be a false incentive for the environment.

    Danone states on its website that the entire company aims to be climate neutral by 2050 and points out that the Volvic brand has been certified by The Carbon Trust.

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Photo: Foodwatch

  • granini

    does not compensate for the emissions from the cultivation or transport of mangoes or pineapples or the production of the bottles, but above all emissions at its own locations - according to Foodwatch, this corresponds to seven percent of the total emissions.

    The company's sustainability report states: "In 2020 we created a CO2 footprint for the Eckes-Granini Group: We emitted 25,896 tons of scope 1 and 2 emissions and 595,635 tons of scope 3 emissions." That means the Most of the emissions from juice, for example, are due to the transport and cultivation of the fruit.

    The CO2 emissions of the company, such as electricity consumption, in the text called Scope 1 and 2, therefore only account for a very small proportion - and according to the company's own statements, only compensated for a total of 43,000 tons in 2021.

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Photo: Foodwatch

  • Hipp

    buys carbon credits for a composting project in South Africa and a forest conservation project in Zimbabwe.

    Because a jar of baby food with beef is mathematically responsible for 319 grams of CO₂, but Hipp buys credits for 350 grams, it considers its complementary food to be “climate positive”.

    The cost: 0.2 cents per glass.

    Hipp himself publishes his sustainability efforts on his own website and refers to the pioneering role that the company has played since the 1990s.

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Photo: Foodwatch

  • Aldi

    has been selling “climate-neutral” milk since November 2020 without even knowing how much CO2 is emitted during production.

    The data collection should be completed by October 2022, but there were no binding reduction measures for farmers - although according to the dairy, 89 percent of the emissions for Aldi milk come from milk production.

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Climate advertising on Gustavo Gusto pizza has since been removed

Photo: Sarah Hauser / Foodwatch

  • Gustavo Gusto

    removed the advertising “climate-neutral product” for his pizza with CO2-intensive products such as salami and cheese from the packaging during the Foodwatch research – and wrote to the organization: “After, as you know, more and more discussions have recently arisen, under which conditions the climate neutrality of products can be advertised in short form and third parties were also involved in legal disputes, we have decided to remove the seal from our packaging for the time being.« Foodwatch praises the company for being willing to provide detailed information delivered .

It is almost impossible for consumers to assess the climate friendliness of a food item in the supermarket.

Foodwatch is therefore calling on the EU and the federal government to ban advertising with terms such as “climate neutral”, “CO2 neutral”, “climate positive” or “CO2 positive” as misleading.

In addition, companies in the food sector and agriculture should be given legal requirements to reduce CO2 emissions.

Almost twenty-five years ago, the EU dealt with advertising claims on food, back then it was about health-related slogans (“health claims”).

In the end, there was an ordinance that set strict limits on these statements.

The European Commission is expected to draft a “Green Claims Regulation” at the end of November – it is quite possible that questionable climate promises will be banned in the future.

Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2022-11-24

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