EU urged to rethink agricultural impact metrics beyond PEF

IFOAM Organics Europe have criticised the EU's PEF method, urging for more comprehensive metrics for agricultural impact on the environment.

In brief:
  • IFOAM Organics Europe challenges the EU's Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method, stating its unsuitability for accurately assessing the environmental impact of agri-food products.
  • A study from CESIAe supports these concerns, highlighting shortcomings in PEF's methodology and recommending reduced use, emphasising the need for more suitable metrics.
  • Critics, including Sabine Bonnot, call for comprehensive and independent methodologies aligned with agroecological practices to build consumer trust in ecological claims.
In detail:

An organisation advocating organic farming in Europe says alternatives are needed to the EU’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) method – which helps assess green claims on food products.

IFOAM Organics Europe, the umbrella organisation for organic food and farming advocates in the EU, claimed that the PEF has limitations when it comes to measuring the impact of agri-food products.

Eric Gall, Deputy Director of IFOAM Organics Europe, said: “While the PEF may work well for manufactured goods, it is ill-suited to assess the environmental impact of agri-food products.

“By design, the PEF calculation method disregards the impacts of different production methods on biodiversity and promotes intensive agriculture, not a transition of the current food system towards agroecological practices.”

Gall claimed that the European Commission itself acknowledges that the PEF methodology has limitations when it comes to assessing the impact of food products.

A recent study from CESIAe claimed that there were shortcomings in PEF’s methodology in assessing the environmental impact of agricultural and food products and recommended a significant reduction in its use.

The study said that PEF's impact indicators lack consideration for interactions among diverse biotopes in the agricultural sector, that its measurement criteria contained drawbacks and that the method failed to take into account differences between sectors.

Quentin Chancé, Coordinator of CESIAe, said that the report “demonstrates that the PEF’s life cycle analysis method, though useful in some contexts, is fundamentally unsuited for agri-food products”.

“Its reductionist approach fails to capture the complex interactions in agriculture, leading to skewed environmental assessments. It is not a question of fixing or patching the PEF for farming: there is a clear need for other metrics.”

Chancé said there was a need for more comprehensive and systemic methodologies that would better suit the agri-food sector.

Sabine Bonnot, Member of the scientific council at ITAB (French Technical Institute of Organic Agriculture) and president of Planet-score, said that surveys reveal that in many European countries, consumers do not trust companies or public authorities on ecological topics.

“To build trust, there is a strong need for methodologies which are relevant, independent, and endorsed by civil society,” she added.

Bonnot particularly criticised what she termed the “value choices” behind the PEF saying that they promoted efficiency above all else.

“The value choices behind the PEF are wrong for farming, as they promote (according to all the afore-mentioned reports) still more intensification, more pressure on farming practices, on nature, on animals and on farmers' revenues,” she said.

IFOAM Organics Europe has urged MEPs to consider methodologies that the group believes better reflect the complexities and environmental impacts of agriculture production methods.

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