Today I want to talk about Labels
We are so quick at labelling things - it is in our nature .
Labels are all around us , from those we impose on each other to the physical ones we see on clothes , food and other objects on the market. Labels are often perceived as indices of quality. Labels are there to indicate some property of the product . It may be ‘free’ of something , ‘safe’ for something. The most well known labels must be the organic and the fair trade . But what / who is behind those ?
And are all the labels to be trusted ?
I want to give a few examples, and bear with me if most of these are marine related but there are plenty of terrestrial equivalents.
Dolphin safe doesn’t actually mean no dolphins were harmed in the process. Dolphin safe means that a specific fishing method (a longline with bated hooks) is used as this is thought to be less harmful and not as likely to catch and hurt dolphins as other methods such as purse Seines or drift nets. Long lines however can still hurt birds and turtles, so it should not be all only about the dolphins. Moreover dolphin safe should not be consider a synonym of sustainable - it says nothing about the species of tuna caught! Also this is a label born in the us so many others countries who fish tuna maybe even sustainably but without falling within the us regulations may be excluded from the labelling..
MSC certification -
msc. Certified fish is often considered the sustainable choice . Msc certifies that the fish is taken from a sustainable stock (meaning not an endangered species or from a population at risk of collapse), it also certifies that the fishing method was not a descriptive one. Sounds good, right ? However , MSC certification is considered controversial , mostly because of it being money -oriented.
Read more on the controversies in this great post by the 'ethical unicorn'.
Personally, I find that finding fish strapped in plastic caught many many many miles away cannot be sustainable. Maybe it is a sustainable fishery (and here I say maybe) but it is not sustainable overall. In this case it would be much better to be informed on what is locally in season and speak with the people at market to see how it was caught etc..
Coral - safe sunscreen:
remember when I spoke about sunscreen toxicity ? In recent years this topic is starting to gain some visibility . You can hear something about it on the sustainable minimalist podcast (or if you are Italian hear about sunscreen issues and what to use on these two episodes here on efficacy and here on safety). Yes because common sunscreens contain ingredients that are not safe for us or the environment, and you can imagine that if you apply before swimming you will release a lot of these in the environment . The most toxic compounds to watch out for are: Homosalate, Oxybenzone, Ensulizole, Avobenzone, Octocrylene, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Sulisobenzone.
Because of this increased attention, it is common nowadays to find ‘reef-safe’ marked sunscreens. But if you go beyond the label and actually read the ingredient list - it is common to see octocrylene in the list amogst the first ingredients. And a lot of other chemicals. This is still unsafe and a big example of greenwashing. You can read more on the environmental working group page.
And of course, we cannot ‘forget’ about one of the biggest labels which is the ‘fair trade’ one, there is even a ‘fair trade debate’ page on wiikipedia!
What is the solution ?
I don’t think ‘labelling’ schemes of the sort work. It makes it ‘easier’ for consumer, but I think that, as consumers, we should be switched on. Thus, wanting to switch off the consumer by giving it simple visuals while shopping is part of the problem.
Stop and read (ingredients, production country, harvesting methods..) is a way of owing ones choices. Let’s not let others make choices for us
Let’s be very weary of meaningless words. They are often there as a mean of greenwashing.
If we really need labels, let’s ensure the agency certifying things is actually trustworthy and it is not just an invented label placed there for marketing reasons.
Remember that labels cost and not everyone can afford to pay for them and that often these are money making schemes, and for example sometimes there is no certification stamp but the product is organic (especially that of small producers, and you can see it - fruit that look all different and maybe a little ugly? likely more organic than the one looking all the same and shining).
The list above was not meant to be exhaustive in any way. There are plenty of labels, too many to count and too many to mention. Some are more legit than others, but nonetheless - let's be mindful consumers!
Disclaimer: some posts may contain affiliate links. At no extra costs to you, buying through the link will help me in this blogging journey!