Seminar - Ethical Information about Food

Stockholm, March 25th 2004

image of Seminar - Ethical Information about Food

At a seminar in Stockholm on March 25th, 2004, the Nordic Council of Ministers opened a dialogue with consumers, trade, producers and organisations about ethical information about food. This seminar report gives an impression of the present stage of discussion about ethical labelling and other information about ethical questions in connection with production of food. The seminar was based on the report Ethical Labelling of Food, TemaNord 2003:527, prepared at the request of the Council of Ministers in a cross-sectorial cooperation between the food, agricultural and forestry, fisheries, environmental and consumer sectors. The seminar confirmed the conclusions and general recommendations in the report. The various interest groups at the seminar - consumers, organisations, production and trade as well as authorities - agreed that labelling is just one way of providing information. There are many other information channels, such as data bases on the Internet, the home pages of organisations and companies, brochures and not forgetting the media. Existing labels should be strengthened and developed, but at present it is more important to open up to development, information and debate about ethical conditions in the production and trade, rather than introducing new ethical labels. In this context the media have an important role to play. The participants noted that the majority of consumers have an attitude to ethics in the production of food, but few act in accordance with this attitude. Consumers expect that others, e.g. the retail trade, have taken a stance on ethical requirements, and that the products offered in the market respect a reasonable ethical standard. The results of the seminar show that no major breakthrough for ethical concerns in production and consumption can be expected in the short term, especially not at a time characterized by fierce price competition. The consumers’ commitment to ethical conditions should, however, be used to stimulate progress and strengthen the competitive position of the companies that have already taken on a social responsibility



Background to the seminar

The report on ethical labelling of food concludes, in general terms, that ethics in the production of food is stirring up public opinion, and that the area attracts the attention of consumers, industry, the media and politicians. In its strategy for sustainable development the Nordic Council of Ministers has specified as one of the long-term goals in the food sector that consumers, via labelling and other methods of consumer information, must be guaranteed the possibility of making a genuine and informed choice on the basis of, for example, ethical considerations. Ethical questions have often been discussed within the remit of the Council of Ministers for a number of years, and several reports have been published on this subject. A continuing Nordic discussion on sustainability, including human rights, animal welfare and environmental protection in connection with food production, may give a clear picture of the ethical considerations that are essential for consumers. The discussion may strengthen the influence of the Nordic countries internationally.


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