The BBC’s Tom Burridge dines out at a Swedish fast-food chain that is trying to discourage people from eating too much meat by publishing the carbon footprint of each item on its menu.
As soon as I am through the door of the brightly lit Max Burger restaurant in central Stockholm, spokesman Par Larshans insists I eat not one, but two of their fast-food snacks.
Max Burgers’ carbon labels are getting them a lot of publicity
The first is a falafel burger. The second is a half beef/half soya burger. They’re tasty… but I’m a carnivore who is not planning to go vegetarian any time soon.
I watch as burgers are assembled behind the counter by a line of workers and wrapped at an incredible speed.
It’s the illuminated menu, above their heads, that is the real reason for my visit. Max Burger claims to be the first restaurant chain in the world to publish CO2 emissions on its menu.
From the methane produced by the cows, to the machinery used on the farm, through to the emissions produced by the abattoir and the lorries which move the meat around – the weight of CO2 represents the carbon footprint of that meal.
Beef production emits high levels of carbon dioxide when compared to other foods. So why on Earth does a restaurant chain that sells mainly beef want to advertise how bad its products are for the planet?
Par Larshans insists they are not “shooting themselves in the foot” and is quick to remind me of the “less-meat products” on the menu.
“We think you need to be honest with the customer. We hope to change the whole of the fast-food industry by this,” he said.
“We want people to eat less meat.”
Max Burgers’ carbon labels are getting them a lot of publicity, which no doubt does them no harm.
They do however also seem to epitomise the country’s enthusiasm for environmental food labelling. A recent survey in Sweden found that 92% of people wanted more information about the “green credentials” of the food they were buying.
Customers seem generally positive.
“It’s a very interesting concept,” says one. “We have to start somewhere… I think it will affect what people will order.”
Another questions how accurate the figures are, but she likes the idea that you can “see the impact of what you’re eating, on the environment.”
Her companion is also keen to find out his “energy consumption,” as he puts it, but then asks: “How much is a gram of CO2?”
Carbon labelling on products began four years ago in Britain
This is one of the main problems for the increasing number of food manufacturers who put a carbon footprint on their products.
The figures on the label do not mean a huge amount to most people.
This – and the fact that calculating carbon footprints is a complex and costly process – is why two food organisations in Sweden are now working on a simpler label which they hope people will find easier to understand.
The labels will be called climate labels – not carbon labels – and are designed to set a simple environmental benchmark for food production in Sweden.
Any product reaching certain standards in terms of farming, production, packaging and transportation will carry the new label.
The secret, according to Swedish author Jessica Cederberg Wodmar, who has written a book on the subject, is coming up with a labelling system that is easy to understand and credible.
“The problem is that no-one has come-up with a label that sets a standard that everyone else wants to use,” she said.
If the new Swedish labels are a success, however, she fully expects to see them copied in other countries around the world.
The full report can be seen on World News America on Tuesday 8th December at 7pm ET / 4pm PT and again at 10pm ET/ 7pm PT; BBC WORLD NEWS – Wednesday 9th December at 0000 GMT; BBC NEWS CHANNEL (in the UK) – Wednesday 9th December at 12.30am