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Organic, eco, fair trade - what the seals really mean

Even Nestlé boss Mark Schneider is annoyed.

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Organic, eco, fair trade - what the seals really mean

Even Nestlé boss Mark Schneider is annoyed. At an industry conference, he recently complained that almost every product in the supermarket bears some kind of label for supposed sustainability. But what is actually behind it differs significantly - also in terms of effort and costs for the company. The manager said that customers could hardly tell which statement made sense.

In fact, there are a variety of seals. For example the EU eco-label and next to it the German Blue Angel. Or from business organizations with their own awards, such as the Rainforest Alliance or natural cosmetics associations. There are also voluntary commitments, such as the Nutriscore traffic light. And of course the huge field of other product claims - from the ambitious sustainability agenda to the advertising platitude. “There is an almost infinite number of labels. The industry designed almost all of them – often with unclear criteria,” criticizes Dario Sarmadi from the campaign organization Foodwatch.

Jochen Geilenkirchen from the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations says he cannot fully recommend any seal. Awards that only certify individual aspects are particularly critical. "Such seals create a halo effect that makes the entire product look good, even if, for example, the packaging alone is particularly sustainable."

Even ambitious companies cause uncertainty. The drugstore DM, for example, offers its own brand “Pro Climate”. Together with the TU Berlin, the company has reduced the environmental impact of the products and finances compensation measures such as planting trees for the remaining damage. At the same time, however, DM offers similar products such as detergents under its own eco-brand “Denk Mit Nature”. It is not clear to customers which is now more sustainable. "We need fewer seals and more political responsibility," demands Foodwatch expert Sarmadi.

It is therefore difficult for consumers to orientate themselves in the jungle of seals. WELT offers an overview of common logos - and what to think of them.

The EU Ecolabel has a high standard. Depending on the product group, it includes comprehensive aspects, such as ingredients and packaging, but also repairability. An effectiveness test is also included. The specifications are demanding: some brands, for example in Germany, do without the logo in order to be able to use popular fragrances. The requirements for the German environmental label, the Blue Angel, are lower. It often only certifies individual aspects such as recycled packaging.

Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance target the origin of raw materials. Fair Trade is the more expensive and demanding program, where more money usually ends up with the local smallholders. Rainforest Alliance provides a framework for measures that secure cultivation in the long term. There are also company programs for this, such as Cocoa Life from Milka manufacturer Mondelez or Nestlé's Cocoa Plan specifically for cocoa cultivation.

Changes in labels also create confusion. The four-tier animal welfare system that has just been introduced by agriculture, the meat industry and retail will soon be replaced by a state-mandated five-tier categorization – initially only for pigs. The organic seal will also remain in place.

The specifications for the classification of the Nutriscore, which classifies the nutritional values ​​of a food, will also be changed. At least that works: Manufacturers like Dr. Oetker is currently further reducing sugar, for example in muesli, so as not to be classified worse.

"Consumers have been proven to understand the colored nutrition label," says Carolin Krieger from the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations. "It is good if the Nutriscore is scientifically based and made even more meaningful."

There were also changes to the EU energy label for household appliances: Because the technology has become more economical overall, the classes have been made more demanding. This enables better orientation.

In addition to official seals, the manufacturers use their own lettering and symbols. Demanding goals and trivialities are often closely related. The designations “packaging 100 percent recycled” and “packaging 100 percent recyclable” are confusingly similar. "Recycled" means that the bottle is actually made from recycled plastic. To do this, systems have to be converted at great expense.

The statement "recyclable" only means that the packaging could be recycled. In order to achieve this, a less complex conversion is only necessary if the packaging was previously made of non-recyclable composite materials. This often does not happen, the packaging is burned.

It is similar with the terms climate-neutral and climate-neutralized: On the one hand, it is about complex production without emissions, on the other hand only a minimal compensation payment per product to organizations that plant trees, for example.

More and more manufacturers are launching their own initiatives. Such programs often have impressive names that are not protected - such as "organic" for cleaning agents. Werner

The content is determined by the producer: use of recycled plastic and "carefully obtained surfactants, increasingly based on European vegetable oils". How close the respective product is to these goals cannot be read on the packaging, however. Frozen producer Frosta has found success in detailing its ingredients and origins - a step forward in terms of transparency, but not necessarily an improvement in quality. There is a similar trend in cosmetics, for example at Nivea, to promote products with, for example, only ten ingredients. This can help allergy sufferers, but does not mean that these ingredients have to be of high quality.

With some products, customers immediately notice large lettering, for example with the statement “97 percent less plastic waste” – thanks to the cardboard box. When making a quick purchase decision in the supermarket, such bold statements can hide the fact that the products as a whole do not necessarily have to be more environmentally friendly than others. Many manufacturers are currently taking advantage of this by overemphasizing advances in packaging.

The trend topic of avoiding plastic helps with this. Entire newcomer brands such as Everdrop or Klaeny cleaning products have emerged with the promise of reducing packaging waste. However, some of these water-soluble solid cleaning agents are no longer eco-certified.

When it comes to food, too, individual aspects often dominate. The claim "vegan", for example, often appears on packaging as a quality feature - even for products that have always managed without animal ingredients.

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