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Would you pay the 'true' climate cost for food?

What carbon footprint is involved in producing foods like sausages, mozzarella, fruit-flavoured yoghurts or plant-based meat alternatives? Will you pay the environmental cost of procuring these food items?

Published: Aug 5, 2023 08:56:32 AM IST
Updated: Aug 4, 2023 07:01:11 PM IST

Would you pay the 'true' climate cost for food?Until August 5, the Penny supermarket chain in Germany is selling a selection of products at prices that reflect their "true" climate cost. Image: Courtesy of Penny Supermarket

The German supermarket chain Penny has had the surprising and ingenious idea of increasing—sometimes even doubling—the price of certain foods to raise awareness of their real environmental cost. The retailer is implementing this pricing policy for a week on nine food products.

What kind of carbon footprint is involved in producing foods like sausages, mozzarella, fruit-flavored yogurts or plant-based meat alternatives? It is precisely this environmental cost, which never appears on supermarket labels, that the German discount supermarket chain Penny is seeking to highlight through an initiative that has been running in 2,150 of its stores since July 31. "Until now, the risks associated with food production and the costs of the damage it causes have not been presented in a transparent way," the chain said back in 2020 as part of a similar awareness campaign involving fruit and vegetable prices.

As part of this latest initiative, the prices of certain food products, particularly those of animal origin, are set to rise until August 5. Excess proceeds from these sales will be donated to the "Zukunftsbauer" ("Future Farmer") program, supporting family-run farms that are struggling financially. In the meantime, consumers will be able to discover the true environmental cost of certain meats and cheeses, such as mozzarella and maasdam. A vegan meat alternative has also been included in the campaign.

Also read: Brace for a further rise in chocolate prices

As a result, some products have nearly doubled in price. For example, a packet of Viennese sausages has risen from €3.19 to €6.01. The price of maasdam cheese has risen by 95% to €4.84 (from €2.49). The price of mozzarella has risen by €0.66 (from €0.89 to €1.55). For vegan schnitzels, on the other hand, the increase is no more than 5% (€2.83 vs. €2.69).

The "true" cost of these products was estimated by researchers at Germany's Nuremberg Institute of Technology and the University of Greifswald, who took into account criteria such as the effects of producing these foods on soil, climate, water use and health. "Based on the calculations, our team comes to the conclusion: The 'true cost share' of the calculated vegetable product is significantly lower than that of animal products. The environmental costs of organically produced products are lower than those of conventional products, but both forms of cultivation cause externalities," the experts explain on the website of the Nuremberg Institute of Technology.