An environmental labelling system for food has been proposed by environment secretary David Miliband. At the National Farmers? Union Annual Conference in Birmingham yesterday (February 27), Mr Miliband called for environmental standards to become ?the norm? on food packaging. ?Environmental quality is becoming an important factor in consumers? decisions alongside nutritional quality and price,? he said.

Energy inputs, fertiliser use, soil and waste management and water pollution would all be assessed when determining the environmental standard of a product. ?I want Defra to work with producers, retailers, environmental organisations and existing assurance bodies on whether we can agree on a green standard, that informs and empowers consumers and gives farmers recognition in the marketplace,? Mr Miliband told the conference.

The whole lifecycle impact of food, from production to distribution would be evaluated in the environmental labelling process, making the project a lengthy process. In the short term Mr Miliband has proposed the introduction of environmental standards for food production.

?In principle we believe in reducing our carbon footprint, and in farming contributing to mitigating climate change,? said NFU president Peter Kendall. ?I also believe we should be carbon accountable. So labelling, in principle, is an extension of that which we should support?.

But the NFU warns that the labelling must not be used as a marketing tool, with supermarkets trying to ?out-label? each other. ?We need one standard ? and we will work with the whole food chain to achieve that,? Mr Kendall added.