What does “fossil-free value chain” mean for food?
We need to increase knowledge and create consensus concerning the use of the term “fossil-free” in relation to food production. A project about this has been in progress during the spring of 2023. Lantmännen has had an active and driving role and contributed with experience. Johanna Taflin, project manager for Lantmännen’s cultivation programme Climate & Nature, who was a member of the working group, explains.
Lantmännen has launched a fossil-free value chain for grain through the cultivation programme Climate & Nature. During 2023, products from Kungsörnen and AXA will be included in the fossil-free part of the programme.
In addition to emissions that come from the use of fossil fuels, food production also has biogenic emissions that are important to reduce. Biogenic emissions are not included in this project.
It is not unusual to see the term “fossil-free” on packaging in grocery stores, but it is not always clear what it really means. It could be about different efforts made, for different products, where the impact to reduce the use of fossil fuels is large or small. When developing a fossil-free product, the distinction of what counts as part of the food chain is important and needs to be clarified.
The project, which was led by Sigill quality systems, aimed to bring the industry together to agree on what parts should be made fossil-free in order to build a fossil-free value chain. The four companies that were part of the working group, Arla, HKScan, Spendrups and Lantmännen, have examined their value chains. Lantmännen examined wheat flour. Grain is included as an input in many other food chains, for example, those for milk, meat and beer, thus Lantmännen had a tone-setting role in the work and contributed to setting certain reasonable boundaries for what should be included. Lantmännen also has experience in transitioning to fossil-free in practice in the cultivation programme Climate & Nature.
It is possible to get below 5 percent fossil energy use in the value chain for wheat flour. The diagram shows which actions in the chain contribute to a reduction in fossil energy and how much.
At the moment, it is the companies who are driving the transition work, while regulation and political governance are lagging behind. The companies’ transition work must create an added value to drive competitiveness, therefore the ability to communicate the efforts made, such as “fossil-free”, is important. We must create a balance where we avoid greenwashing but at the same time are able to inform about efforts and make products more attractive. If we cannot communicate about our sustainability work, there is also less incentive for companies to do this. At the same time, the efforts that are communicated must be real and make a difference. However, the project is not about a label for products, but should serve as a tool that food companies can use.
Initially, the ambition was to define the term fossil-free, but we realised that details can vary between products and we have now produced a guide for transition to a fossil-free value chain. A large part is about making distinctions that we have discussed jointly. I mean that if you follow the new guide, you have come as far as you can today in a large-scale value chain.
We have jointly had the attitude of not letting perfectionism get in the way of implementation, but rather finding ways forward that are possible.
We have jointly had the attitude of not letting perfectionism get in the way of implementation, but rather finding ways forward that are possible. In some cases, pragmatism is required to achieve the overall goal of phasing out fossil fuels, reducing emissions and creating viable solutions. There will probably for a long time be some percentage of the value chain that is not fossil-free, because we live in a fossil world, but that does not mean that we cannot get very far. Here we need to be clear about what we mean, and transparent about the delimitations that are chosen in each case.
In the future, regulation in the area will increase, the EU Commission is working on regulation on “Green claims”, that is, how climate claims can be used in marketing. It is important that this has an effect on large volumes and does not just become a matter of small niche products. Here I regard our industry cooperation as important. To create the transition required to achieve global climate goals needs, companies need to come together. We must agree on what level of sustainability must be required and create a new minimum level. Agreeing on the term is only one step on the way.
The project has been very valuable to us at Lantmännen and we have been able to learn from each other.