New labels to wring out waste

A labelling system that tracks the “water footprint” of foods sold in supermarkets would help combat the $5 billion worth of food that goes to waste each year, a leading environmental campaigner claims.

Planet Ark founder and chairman of non-profit group Do Something, Jon Dee, said awareness of the scarcity of water would help the public to realise the huge energy costs that went into producing food.

“We’ve already seen throughout Australia that the Australian public is very responsive to the idea of reducing their day-to-day usage of water,” he said.

“What the Australian public are not aware of at the moment is just how much water is used in getting their food from the paddock to the plate.”

A water footprint would operate in a similar way to carbon footprint labelling used in Europe, but it would track the amount of fresh water, instead of carbon, used to produce foods such as rice or meat.

The system was developed by Professor Arjen Hoekstra at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and will be discussed at the Corporate Water Footprint Summit in the US next month.

Dee said if it was more widely known that it takes up to 100,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef, changed consumer behaviour might lead to environmental innovation and reward sustainable farming.

“I think the concept of doing water usage labelling would actually be in some ways easier to introduce into Australia because we are so much more sensitive to the fact that water is hard to come by,” he said.

“We would actively call on Coles and Woolworths and other major food retailers to look at implementing this kind of scheme.”

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show it takes as much as 3¨ö Olympic swimming pools of water to meet the yearly beef consumption of a single Australian adult, who has an average water footprint of 1,393,000 litres a year.

Dee said the Government could help develop a labelling system supported by industry but a spokeswoman for Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, said there were no plans to introduce such a scheme.

Austrade senior trade commissioner, Kylie Hargreaves, said a growing environmental awareness among consumers was affecting Australian products in Britain due to food mileage labelling, which tracked the transport required to get food to supermarkets.

“For countries like Australia you’ve got questions whereby (foreign companies) might say sourcing from water-scarce countries is unethical,” she said.

Choice food policy officer, Clare Hughes, said she supported a system akin to the Heart Foundation’s tick, which uses rigorous science to gauge all aspects of food sustainability.

— Brisbane Times

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