Following the new 2022 Agro-Nutri Monitor the Dutch regulator (Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM)) calls on parties in the agricultural supply chain to make a greater contribution to further sustainability by creating a certification label for sustainable Dutch products. The report is in Dutch, the ACM's English press release can be found here. The Agro-Nutri Monitor is a regulator monitor prepared on behalf of the ACM by Wageningen University & Research.

Supermarkets, specialty stores and catering companies can more explicitly encourage their customers to make a more sustainable choice. Cooperation in the chain helps achieving this goal and usually fits within the competition rules. ACM has recently published 'Guidelines regarding collaborations between farmers' in which these potential collaborations within chains are described.

According to Martijn Snoep, the Chairman of the Board of the ACM, the current large variation of labels on the market results in consumers not being sufficiently informed. Previous research by the ACM shows that the sheer number of different labels causes confusion and uncertainty among consumers, which results in them losing confidence in certification labels, including the good ones.

Therefore, the ACM proposes to create a clear certification label in the form of a quality mark for sustainable Dutch products to replace the current proliferation of 'green' labels. The certification label – a single, clear, properly-managed, and trustworthy label for more-sustainable products in shops, specialty stores, and hospitality – can help consumers in their decision-making process by informing them which products are sufficiently sustainable. International recognition can stimulate the export of Dutch agricultural products. Furthermore, through a solid certification system, sustainable products can be made more affordable through subsidies, while products without the quality mark can be made more expensive through taxation. This will influence both consumer demand for sustainable and non-sustainable options in the desired direction as sustainable demand will rise due to lower prices and non-sustainable demand will fall due to higher prices.

One of the ways to establish a satisfactory sustainable certification label is by collaborations in the supply chain. Supermarkets and the hospitality business are crucial in this regard as they form the final link to the consumers. As the ACM set out in its recent guidelines, these collaborations are often allowed under European competition law as this will result in better matching of supply and demand.

The ACM stresses that there are many important exceptions to the European competition rules for the agricultural sector. Especially with regard to sustainability the agricultural sector has more opportunities for collaboration, compared to other sectors. For example, arrangements regarding common selling prices and/or production are often allowed.

The ACM is one of the pioneers in the hotly debated application of competition rules to sustainability agreements. For instance, by issuing guidelines on sustainability agreements (see our blog on these guidelines here) and being very vocal on this point (see our blog on a recent speech of ACM chairman Snoep here).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.