Labels are a good idea in principle: they are designed to provide information on the product’s special features and the conditions under which it was produced. And help buyers in deciding whether to make the purchase – or not.
The problem today, though, is that there is almost no food product without a label – for dairy goods alone there are more than 30. And this tends to create more confusion than clarity. One example are the logos for foods from the surrounding region. These focus on local suppliers. But this doesn’t mean that the goods are necessarily produced on an environmentally or animal-friendly basis – even if the green colour in the logo suggests as much.
Finding it out for yourself
Consumers wishing to get a better picture have no choice but to find the information themselves. Assessments made by environmental or consumer protection organisations will help (see list below). This makes it easier to find out what the labels focus on and which labels actually deliver added value: with information on working conditions, for example, biodiversity, or animal husbandry.
But: “Food labels are not the all-round solution,” says Corina Gyssler from WWF Switzerland. Anyone who eats fish on a daily or weekly basis, for example, still contributes to the over-exploitation of the oceans – with or without an environmental certificate. And besides, there are doubts about fish labels, too. While Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have a good reputation, the "Friend of Sea" label comes way down the list.
Rating list: these labels represent sustainable products
Thirty-one labels were rated by the Swiss Foundation for Practical Environmental Protection (Pusch), WWF, Helvetas and the Foundation for Consumer Protection. The topics under examination were the environment (water, soil, climate, biodiversity), social aspects, animal welfare, management, processes and control. Several labels earned ratings of "excellent" or "highly recommended". All the consumer guides can be seen at www.labelinfo.ch and www.wwf.ch/foodlabels and are also available as a leaflet or app.
Knospe Bio/Knopse Bio Suisse: One of the best-known labels. It achieved above-average scores in all topics and product groups.
Bio natur plus (Manor): Labels products according to Bio Suisse guidelines. In many respects, the standards here are stricter than the legal standards for organic farming. Imported goods are widely avoided.
Naturaplan (Coop): A label for domestic and foreign products based on Bio Suisse guidelines. Here, too, the standards are in many respects more rigorous than the legal requirements.
KAGfreiland: A label for Swiss meat and eggs from organic and animal-friendly farming. The strictest of the rated labels in terms of animal welfare.
Natura-Beef Bio: A label for Swiss beef from suckler cows. The farms are managed according to Bio Suisse guidelines and are subject to strict animal husbandry requirements.
Bio Weide-Beef (Migros): Also stands for organic beef from animal-friendly husbandry according to Bio Suisse guidelines. In terms of animal welfare, the label performs better than Bio Suisse. The cattle are sent to graze outdoors all year round
Delinat: Certified domestic and foreign organic wine. The guidelines cover not only ecological factors, but social aspects too.
Category «Highly recommended»
Bio Organic (Lidl): Fruit, vegetables and southern products are produced according to Bio Suisse guidelines. For imports, the less stringent standards of the EU regulations on organic production apply.
Fidelio: Labels Swiss organic meat from animal-friendly husbandry. The animals go outdoors everyday and are kept in groups, except for the heifers.
Demeter: Stands for bio-dynamically produced food. In Switzerland, the farms must also be certified by Bio Suisse. Less stringent standards apply to imported products.
Claro fair trade: Products from around 200 smallholder cooperatives are sold in compliance with Fairtrade guidelines. Around 75 percent of the range is also certified in accordance with EU regulations on organic production.
Migros Bio: Stands for domestic food products produced in line with Bio Suisse guidelines. Imports are subject to less stringent EU regulations, but with additional requirements such as a ban on air transport.
Max Havelaar: A well-known label for fairtrade products from the south. Social requirements are high, but environmental requirements tend to be low. The Max Havelaar Cocoa label refers to a fairly traded ingredient, such as cacao.
Naturland: The German equivalent to Bio Suisse. It places high social demands on southern products and on aquaculture. Air transport, on the other hand, is not clearly regulated.