MSC, ASC, Max Havelaar, RSPO, FSC, just a few of the quality labels you may find on products. They aim to foster production that respects the environment and (animal) welfare. Although quality labels are a good and sustainable initiative, ensuring these logos actually merit their green checkmark is difficult.
Quality labels are almost the only way consumers can peek into the otherwise well-shielded fortress of the production processes. A quality label provides willing consumers with the insight needed to make a weighed choice. A can of tuna, for example, that promises the fish was caught or bred in a sustainable and animal-friendly way is often more expensive. It remains a promise, however, not a guarantee. Providing a guarantee is impossible, as there is no way to discern from the end product whether the quality label conditions were met.
The conditions relate to the process, after all. For example, whether or not a tuna fisher has bycatch or that people are not being exploited on an oil palm plantation. Checking every stage in the process is only possible if an inspector were present at every location, at every stage of the production process. Moreover, the inspector would have to be completely independent. For a fishing boat or plantation to have a quality mark is lucrative, and it is therefore not unlikely that stakeholders would go far to acquire such a label. There are plenty of stories about bribery, threats or worse. The inspection is not watertight, and thus, there is no guarantee.
There are plenty of stories about bribery, threats or worse. The inspection is not watertight, and thus, there is no guarantee
If no guarantee is provided, the consumer is dependent on promises and good intentions. And, although there is, without a doubt, a number of businesses involved in greenwashing (pretending to be greener and more sustainable than you are to benefit from the feel-good business), I am convinced most businesses have good intentions.
Thus, it would be unfair to judge all quality labels by the same standards. A quality label is not, by definition, nonsense, but, sadly, also not by definition useful. It would be great if we could trust a quality label without question, as was originally intended. Until that time, we will have to take the green checkmarks with a pinch of sustainable salt.
Oscar Delissen is a third-year Food Technology student who likes cooking with sharp knives and colourful festival shirts.