Fresh produce exports could be jeopardised by food miles labelling according to Future Climate Australia CEO, Henry O’Clery.
O’Clery said the labels, showing how far food had travelled to its point of sale, are a threat because they are a simplistic concept consumers understand and accept.
His comments come after British supermarket giant Tesco began labelling some of its products with “carbon labels”.
The labels show consumers how many grams of carbon were emitted as a result of growing, manufacturing, transporting and storing the product.
O’Clery said food miles, while being a simplistic approach to environmental issues, could become critical as Australia fights for export market share.
“I think it’s going to be used in trade wars to create artificial barriers,” O’Clery said.
“I think we’ve got a problem in that it’s a simplistic view that anyone can understand, so people jump on it.”
Environmental scientist Dr Cecil Camilleri said there was a lot of confusion about whether food miles were the same as carbon footprint.
Dr Camilleri said while he thought food miles could threaten Australian exports, there was some promising research showing dairy produce from New Zealand was more climate friendly than British products.
“We’re putting together the scientific study to back the arguments,” Dr Camilleri said.
Food marketing and consumer behaviour expert Professor Andrew Fearne said the impact of food miles on Australian exports was being exaggerated.
He said supermarkets were in the driver’s seat, not consumers.
“We need to play to the corporate agenda, not the consumer agenda because the corporates will make the decisions,” Professor Fearne said.
“I don’t know of many supermarkets who are making their (product) decisions on the basis of food miles.”
Professor Fearne said the number of consumers who understood, cared and could afford to pay for more sustainable food was tiny.
“The notion of having a label that is complex and costly for all products on supermarket shelves is crazy from a commercial point of view,” he said.
“You don’t feed the world by certifying the environmental credentials of the food.”