-- LABELS: Linking Consumers and Producers - Vol. 1, Number 4 September 19, 1997
Table of Contents
- Announcing LABELS: Linking Consumers and Producers - Industry Stifling EU Eco-Label Progress - ISO Draws Closer To Eco-Label - Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Labeling Update - Comment Period Reopened For Frozen Produce Labeling - Mexico Expected To Table Grape Labeling - News Briefs - Events - Position Notice - Resources - Correction
ANNOUNCING LABELS: LINKING CONSUMERS AND PRODUCERS We are pleased to introduce a monthly publication from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), Labels: Linking Consumers and Producers.
Labels provides readers with relevant, up-to-date news, events and resources related to the labeling of products for environmental, social and regional sustainability. Labeling products with respect to the sustainability of their production, processing and transporting is a powerful tool for achieving more environmentally sound, economically viable, biologically diverse, and socially just communities. IATP encourages information exchange on the development, implementation and impact of labeling initiatives.
Labels is distributed electronically via an automated list serve. To subscribe, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Leave the subject line blank. In the body of the message say: subscribe label-news. Contact Kathryn Clements, email@example.com, if you need any assistance. Labels is also available, along with all the IATP news bulletins, via our website: http://www.sustain.org/bulletins.
INDUSTRY STIFLING EU ECO-LABEL PROGRESS A "lack of cooperation" from industry is responsible for the sluggish progress being made toward achieving an EU eco-labeling scheme. According to Helias Udo de Haes, writing in the first edition of the Journal of Industrial Ecology, EU policy makers "chose the wrong partners" by focusing on industrial sectors rather than individual companies. Employing individual companies to help develop an eco-label program would yield great improvements as it would "surely increase willingness to engage in environmental competition," said Professor Udo de Haes, an expert in life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. He previously worked with the European Commission on the use of LCA in the EU eco-label program.
Increasing the role of consumer organizations in the development process could accelerate the pace, Udo de Haes maintains. Such organizations have the flexibility to publicize information about products in different ways. "Information about products may be expressed in the form of an eco-label. But...consumer organizations might [also] compare different products in their publications and signal their preference," he noted.
"Industry blocking EU eco-label progress," ENDS DAILY, August 21, 1997.
ISO DRAWS CLOSER TO ECO-LABEL The International Standards Organization is possibly just several months away from issuing a draft international eco-labeling standard, known as ISO 14024. The proposed standard reportedly has the backing of two- thirds of the world-wide ISO delegation. Once approved, the draft standard will be circulated for a five month ballot process. The final standard may be issued by late 1998, informed sources say.
Britain's ISO delegation, however, opposes the current proposal, voting against the document's progression. According to John Lawrence, Chair of the British Standards Institution's (BSI) Environmental Labeling Committee, said the U.K. is opposed to ISO 14024 as proposed because it lacks clarity as to its intention. Lawrence says the standard currently mixes an attempt to harmonize existing eco-labeling schemes with trying to guide interested parties wanting to set up an eco-labeling program. BSI worries that mixing the two approaches will make it difficult for newcomer organizations to identify the key elements of ISO 14024.
According to BSI documents, the original intent of ISO 14024 was to apply to labeling programs using labels to inform customers that "a third party is certifying that the labeled product meet[s] a set of predetermined criteria which are considered to promote environmentally sound purchasing decisions for products of that category." Lawrence noted that BSI has "been consistent in our opposition [to the proposed standards] because we want it to be as good as possible, and we have been consistent in our view of what needs to be done in order to achieve that."
A 1995 ISO 14024 document, highlights the concern that environmental labeling programs could possibly pose a barrier to trade. "The proliferation of programs with different criteria, methodologies, and certification procedures creates increased difficulties and costs to applicants from foreign countries." For this reason, environmental labels are considered quite controversial, although ISO 14024 itself is not necessarily considered controversial.
"ISO 14024 eco-labeling proposal poised to become draft international standard," INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT REPORTER, September 3, 1997.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM (GMO) LABELING UPDATE A coalition of nearly 50 agricultural companies and associations urged President Clinton this month to fight against the EU's proposed broad GMO labeling scheme. The coalition said that the guidelines could result in product segregation even though the EU has said it does not support such segregation as part of the scheme. The coalition based its concern on the EU's proposed guidelines for labeling GMO content in products, and argues that any labeling should be based on product safety issues. The coalition urged the President to support their position that the EU "should not require additional labeling unless there are scientifically established issues of safety, such as the introduction of a known allergen; a significant change in nutrients or composition; or a change in identity."
In related news, the European Commission approved draft measures September 10 ordering that Austria and Luxembourg lift bans on genetically modified maize imports. The EC based its decision on the findings of three scientific committees which held that genetically modified maize does not pose a danger to human health or the environment. Environmental groups condemned the decision. The European Parliament is likely to decry the move as well: It passed a motion in April accusing the Commission of putting commercial considerations ahead of consumer safety on the issue. The maize is manufactured in the U.S. by the pharmaceutical company Novartis.
"Agricultural interests urge U.S> to fight against broad EU GMO labels," INSIDE U.S. TRADE, September 12, 1997; "Maize: Brussels to overrule bans on genetically modified food," FINANCIAL TIMES, September 11, 1997.
COMMENT PERIOD REOPENED FOR FROZEN PRODUCE LABELING The U.S. Customs Service announced August 18 that the comment period on proposed country-of-origin labeling of imported commercial products has been reopened. Formal comments on a regulation requiring front panel country-of-origin labeling on imported frozen produce packages will be accepted until October 17, 1997.
The original comment period for the proposed rule closed in September 1996, yielding a majority of comments opposing front-panel labeling of country-of-origin. The American Alliance for Honest Labeling reports that since that original comment period, 79 members of Congress have written Treasury Secretary Rubin to enact the proposal. The proposed front-panel labeling rule was introduced in 1996 in response to a Court of International Trade (CIT) ruling: The CIT ruled with respect to Section 304 of the Tariff Act of 1930-- requiring country-of-origin labels on product imported into the U.S. be labeled in a "conspicuous place," that "conspicuous place" did mean front panel placement of information for imported frozen produce packages for retail sale.
Press Release: AMERICAN ALLIANCE FOR HONEST LABELING, August 21, 1997.
MEXICO EXPECTED TO TABLE GRAPE LABELING Mexican officials are expected to grant a 90-day suspension of country- of-origin labeling on California table grapes. The Mexican government began enforcement of the 1996 law on June 2, requiring all table grape imports to bear the variety name, shipper and importer in Spanish. The California Table Grape Commission (CTGC) and U.S. government officials met with Mexican officials to work out a deal and at press time it was expected that a suspension was imminent.
California table grape exporters are relieved at the prospect of the 90-day suspension, which will carry them through the remainder of the 1997 season. CTGC President Bruce Obbink said that the time is needed by both sides to look at the best way to implement and enforce the rule. "There was so much confusion on where this sticker should be placed, who puts it on, where it's put on, the size of the sticker, the font size - if you can imagine that- and where was it going to be enforced," Mr. Obbink said.
He said that it is the table grape industry's position that, upon re- enforcement of the rule, the product importer bears the responsibility for country-of-origin labeling, rather than placing the onus on the shipper. "The requirements for labeling need to be put on by the people [for whom] the labeling law is designed," Mr. Obbink said. "We're marketing grapes in 30 different countries. It would be an absolute nightmare to try and function if we had to label each box with 30 different languages." Shippers have complained that the law requires that the label be put on by the shipper only after being sold to an importer.
The Mexican country-of-origin rules cover a host of products ranging from brandy to fruits and vegetables to cigars, and were introduced as part of sweeping new labeling rules introduced last year along with other requirements for content, nutrition, and safety labeling. The labeling regulations have raised concern in the U.S. textile, food and leather goods sector as exporters complain that the rules are too rigid and that there is confusion around which agency actually enforces them. Mexican commerce officials, some U.S. exporters say, promised soft enforcement when the labeling rules were introduced. However, it is the finance ministry that is charged with managing enforcement via their jurisdiction over customs activities: U.S. exporters complain the finance ministry is holding products to the letter of the law.
In a parallel story, Mexican officials announced that domestic and foreign companies may participate in a 60-day comment period on proposed new label rules for leather goods. The comment period began September 6.
"Mexico may derail labeling law," THE PACKER, September 6, 1997; "Foreign firms allowed to comment on Mexico's label rules for leather," JOURNAL OF COMMERCE, September 5, 1997.
NEWS BRIEFS The Honduras Apparel Manufacturers Association (HAMA) announced that it is instituting a code of conduct intended to prevent labor abuses in apparel factories and improve environmental performance. A spokesman for the organization says it mirrors the Apparel Industry Partnership initiative President Clinton launched last year. The US-based National Labor Committee said that type of plan will not ensure living wages for workers or provide adequate monitoring of factories. The Honduran code is not government-mandated, but all HAMA members will be required to enlist the code. JOURNAL OF COMMERCE, September 2, 1997.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) agreed this summer to expand consumer protection guidelines to include sustainable consumption. An expert group of government representatives, international organizations and NGOs will work to develop the guidelines to be submitted for approval by Summer 1998. The guidelines may include eco-labeling; product pricing that considers environmental cost; and guidelines to control misleading 'environmentally friendly' advertising. ECOSOC's consumer protection guidelines are used as a model for consumer protection legislation, particularly in developing countries. CONSUMER CURRENTS, August 1997.
EVENTS Global Purchasing--Strategic Procurement Tactics For the 21st Century: October 27-29, 1997. Atlanta, Georgia. Sponsored by First Chicago NBD and The International Quality and Productivity Center (IQPC). Includes a module on third party certification for compliance with social accountability standards. For more information contact IQPC. Ph: +01/ 973/256/0211. E-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Take It Back! 97: November 17-18, 1997. Alexandria, Virginia. Recycling seminar organized by Raymond Communications, Inc. (Riverdale, Michigan). Addresses recycling policy and corporate solutions for environmental packaging, labeling and electronics take-back. For more information call +01/301/345/4237.
POSITION NOTICE Sales Coordinator Position Announcement: The Food Alliance (TFA), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting expanded use of sustainable agriculture practices, seeks a Sales Coordinator to develop and implement TFA's food eco-label program. The position requires a detailed working knowledge of the agriculture and food industries. A high level of credibility with retailers and experience developing sales programs is necessary. Position will be based in Portland, Oregon with significant travel in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The application deadline is September 30th. Submit a resume, three references (including people associated with your recent experience), and a cover letter of no more than two pages to Sales Director, The Food Alliance, 2703 NE 11th, Portland, OR 97212. E-mail: <email@example.com>.
RESOURCES American Alliance for Honest Labeling (AAHL). AAHL was formed in January 1997 to promote the enactment of a US Cusuoms Service proposal which would clarify the current law by requiring front panel labeling for imported frozen produce packaging. PO Box 65196; Washington, DC 20025. E-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Web site: <http:// www.honestlabeling.org/index.html>.
"Slow progress in ecolabelling: technical or institutional impediments". By Helias Udo de Haes. Published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. Volume 1, No. 1. Winter 1997. Issue available from Circulation Department; MIT Press Journals; Five Cambridge Center; Cambridge, MA 02142-1493; USA. Telephone: 01/617/253/2889. Fax: 01/617/577/1545.
The Virginia Association of Biological Farming (VABF) has developed a collaboration with Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet to create the BuyGreen Virginia Partnership. This project aims to bring healthier food choices to Virginia consumers while encouraging sustainable farming by producers. To learn more about the BuyGreen Virginia project or to participate in any of its programs, contact: Jeanne Nye, VABF project coordinator, 1715 Blair St.; Christiansburg, VA 24073; phone: 1/540/ 633/6633. E-mail: <Nyej@vt.edu>
CORRECTION A story in Volume 1, No. 2 of LABELS: Linking Consumers and Producers incorrectly stated that Chiquita Brands International is pursuing the use of ECO-OK labeling for the European market. The use of the word "eco" is legislatively restricted in the European Union to mean "organic." ECO-OK certification, an initiative of the Rainforest Alliance, is not a certification of "organic." Rather, ECO-OK is a certification of sustainable operating practices outlined by the Rainforest Alliance. While a number of Chiquita's Latin American operations are ECO-OK certified, the company does not label its retail bananas in the U.S. or Europe. A Chiquita spokeswoman said Chiquita promotes its environmental initiatives to the European market via point-of-purchase displays. For more information on the ECO-OK certification program contact Eric Holst at the Rainforest Alliance, e- mail: <email@example.com>.
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