Sweden is stepping up its efforts to cut carbon emissions by rolling out an experimental labeling system that will inform consumers about the carbon emissions generated by the production of various types of foods, according to a recent New York Times article.  

The new guidelines, created by the Nutrition Department at the Swedish National Food Administration, will equally weigh climate and health statistics against each other.

“We’re the first to do it, and it’s a new way of thinking for us,” said Ulf Bohman, head of the Nutrition Department at the administration. “We’re used to thinking about safety and nutrition as one thing and environmental as another.”

This isn’t the first time Sweden has been on the front lines of the climate change issue. The country is known for both its eco-friendliness and willingness to find new ways to reduce carbon emissions.

For example, Sweden has agreed to stop using fossil fuels for electricity by 2020 and cars that run on gasoline by 2030.

The latest measure came after a 2005 study found that a quarter of the country’s emissions could be traced back to the simple act of eating.

The government realized that encouraging a diet that leaned toward chicken or vegetables and educating farmers on cutting emissions could make a huge difference, according to the Times.

Some of the proposed new guidelines include choosing carrots over cucumbers and tomatoes (which must be grown in a greenhouse) and substituting beans or chicken for red meat (because raising cattle is very carbon-intensive).

Somewhat surprisingly, even some businesses, farming cooperatives and organic labeling programs are helping to devise ways to identify food choices with smaller environmental impacts.

Max, Sweden’s largest chain of burger restaurants, now includes emissions calculations next to each item on its menu boards.

“We decided to be honest and put it all out there and say we’ll do everything we can to reduce,” said Bergfors, president of Max. To arrive at the carbon calculations, Bergfors voluntarily hired a consultant to calculate its carbon footprint.

To help offset some of the emissions created by its burgers, Max eliminated boxes from its children’s meals, installed low-energy lights and paid for wind energy.

Not everyone is excited about the new labeling changes, however. Some producers are arguing that the new programs are too complex and threaten profits.

Meanwhile, some consumers just don’t seem to be affected by the new labeling. 

“I wish I could say that the information has made me change what I eat, but it hasn’t,” said Richard Lalander, while eating a Max hamburger. 

But despite many consumers’ ingrained taste for red meat and other high-carbon foods, the New York Times reports that since the emissions counts started appearing on the menu, sales of climate-friendly items have risen 20 percent, no small potatoes in the fight to stop climate change. 

Swedes begin labeling food emissions
Sweden's new experimental labeling system will begin listing carbon dioxide emissions associated with food production on grocery items and restaurant menus.