Eating sustainably – a guide

9 July 2020


Healthy eating is one thing, but also opting for sustainable eating is quite another. These days, there are so many food labels in the supermarket you can barely see the wood for the trees. What do they all mean? And what good do they do?

Fairtrade, EKO, Beter Leven, MSC. When shopping in a supermarket you’ll find a sticker, star or recommendation on almost every product you see. The government has singled out eleven of them as the best sustainability marks, including Beter Leven, Fairtrade and MSC. You’ll find a few of those eleven labels in each product category of the average supermarket. If you know how to read them, food labels are a handy guide for making the most sustainable choice. That’s good for the environment, animal welfare and in many cases the impoverished producers. But what do the labels stand for?

One, two or three stars
Let’s start at the meat counter. There you’ll find many labels marked ‘Beter Leven’, the quality label of the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals that awards one, two or three stars to products. One star means that animals have more space and distractions than animals in standard livestock farming. Two stars means just a little more comfort for the chickens, three stars stands for enough space to walk around freely in the stall, a shelter and free ranging outside, and a maximum of six thousand chickens in each group.

Grazing cattle
At the cheese counter you’ll see logos with the text ‘Weidemelk’ (meadow milk). This is not an official quality label, but guarantees that the cheese is made from milk produced by cows that are allowed to roam outside in the meadow for at least six hours a day, 120 days a year. Fruit bears the EKO quality label, which indicates that the environment and animal welfare have been taken into account during production. You can recognise sustainable seafood by the MSC logo: this quality label stands not only for fish that has been caught sustainably, but also for fishing techniques that greatly reduce the chance of bycatch.

Successor to MilieuKeur
You will see the Max Havelaar Fairtrade label on many vegetables, but also on packs of coffee and bottles of wine. It means that farmers and growers of this product receive a fair wage and their rights and welfare are respected. Pre-packaged bags of mushrooms, lettuce, carrots and other vegetables are sustainable if they have a label with the text: ‘On the way to PlanetProof’, the successor to MilieuKeur. Products with this label meet all kinds of requirements in the field of crop protection, water, fertilisation, pesticides, packaging, waste and cleaning.

5 labels
1. Fairtrade: Almost all supermarkets have Fairtrade certified private label products in their range, such as coffee and tea.
2. EKO and organic: From pasta, soup, bread, fruit juice and coffee to potatoes, vegetables, dairy and meat: there is an organic variant of virtually all these products.
3. On the way to PlanetProof: Fruit and vegetables bearing this label are sustainable and therefore better for the environment.
4. Beter Leven: Animal welfare is becoming an increasingly hot issue, which is why all supermarkets offer a large range of meat with the Beter Leven quality label.
5. MSC/ASC: You can’t go wrong if you choose fish that is on the green or orange list of the VISwijzer (fish guide). Fish is extra sustainable if it also carries the MSC or ASC quality label.

How financially fit are you?
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