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(article, Ashley Griffin Gartland)

Here in America, we love our labels. We've got labels for fat-free products, low-calorie snacks, all-organic foods, and trans-fat-free items. 

According to the British, we might need one more: a carbon label.

Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in Britain, is spearheading the carbon-label movement, while the government agency Carbon Trust has produced a prototype label for testing on items like fruit juice and potato chips.

In a recent post on Grist, author Peter Madden addresses the question of whether labels really make a difference:

bq. Labeling is a great idea in principle. We have seen labels like fair-trade, organic, energy-rating, and marine stewardship engage consumers, change production, and move markets. And on climate change, consumers tell us they want simple, straightforward choices that are guaranteed to make a difference.

Carbon labels are still hazier than smog; the label advocates don't know exactly which environmental impacts the labels will represent, nor have they determined which products should sport the labels. And while fair-trade or organic labels have very specific definitions behind them, labeling the climate-change impact of a food product may seem remoter than the ozone hole over Antarctica.

Madden weighs the pros and cons of the whole idea:

bq. What exactly should we measure? Where do we start and stop? The Carbon Trust trials have looked at the "embedded" carbon in a product by the time it reaches the shelves in the shop. So, for example, the potato chips have a little label saying that they have taken 78 grams of carbon to produce. This is complicated enough, because the label has to reflect all the CO2 emitted while growing the potatoes and vegetable oil (pesticides, fertilizers, tractor fuel, etc.) as well as manufacturing, packaging, and transporting the chips. But if we just measure this "embedded carbon" up to the point where the product is sold, what about the carbon dioxide generated in use?

Maybe the carbon label is just a line drawn in sand. Then again, maybe not.