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Germany: Discounter Penny trials charging true climate cost of foods

Discount Retail Chain Penny Germany (owned by the German REWE Group) raises price of products including wiener sausage, cheese and yoghurt in week-long experiment

One of the 5 main discounters in Germany has raised the prices of a selection of its products to reflect their real cost on people’s health and the environment.

In a week-long experiment in all 2,150 stores of the Penny chain, a range of nine products, mainly dairy and meat, will be priced at what experts from two universities have deemed to be their true cost, in relation to their effect on soil, climate, water use and health. The “wahre Kosten” or “real costs” campaign has seen the price of wiener sausages rise from €3.19 to €6.01, mozzarella go up by 74% to €1.55, and fruit yoghurt increase by 31% from €1.19 to €1.56.

The awareness promotion week is taking place in conjunction with academics from the Nuremberg Institute of Technology and the University of Greifswald, and was triggered by the conviction among consumer researchers that price tags in supermarkets in no way reflect the true environmental or long-term health costs of producing the foodstuffs and getting them on to retailers’ shelves.

Included are a range of foods from cheese and other dairy products to processed meats such as sausages, as well as vegan meat replacements such as vegan schnitzels (which were given a moderate 5% increase). Wiener sausages and the popular maasdamer cheese, which has risen by 94% to €4.84, are among the items to go up most in price. Regarding the cheese, the scientists calculated hidden costs of 85 cents for climate-harming emissions such as methane and CO2, as well as 76 cents for damage to the soil from intensive farming and animal feed production, 63 cents for the effect of pesticides used, including their impact on the health of farmers, as well as 10 cents for pollution of groundwater through the use of fertiliser. The discounter has said it will donate the excess proceeds it makes from the sales, without commenting on whether it was prepared to take a knock in profits. The charity Zukunftsbauer or Future Farmer, which supports family-run farms in Alpine regions, many of which are increasingly struggling to survive amid low returns or sometimes even making losses on their produce, will be the beneficiary. “We wish to create an awareness around the hidden environmental costs of groceries,” Penny’s chief operating officer, Stefan Görges, told German media. “We need to put out the uncomfortable message that the prices of our foodstuffs which are accrued along the supply chain in no way reflect the environmental on-costs.”

Dr Amelie Michalke, an industrial engineer and sustainability expert from the University of Greifswald in northern Germany, said it was not yet possible to present the real cost to health and the environment for more than a select range of products. The experiment had therefore been limited to a smaller range for which it had been possible to make realistic calculations. “There is a lack of comprehensive scientific groundwork on this. But we hope this will give us a strong impulse to discuss and consider prices for groceries in a way that is user-friendly and fair,” she said.


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