Smart consumers (and hopefully you) are demanding local food products more than ever before. We often assume that are foods are coming from a trusted source – but aside from a tag that may say local, it’s mostly still a mystery.
Unfortunately, transparency in the food and agriculture businesses has never been much of a priority. Fake CSAs have been popping up across the country. Farmer’s Market tents have produce that’s bought in bulk. In New York City, for instance, there are companies advertising themselves as CSAs when in fact they are nothing more than middlemen for large regional co-ops.
Although there is nothing wrong with delivering food locally, the purpose of the CSA is to support local agriculture and foster a direct relationship between farmers and consumers. These fake CSAs do little to support local agriculture and the food items may not even be from local farms. The rule of thumb to follow here is simple: if you don’t know your farmer, you are not in a true CSA.
But the lack of transparency does not stop there. Many items sold in farmer’s markets are not truly local as farmers look for new ways to increase profits regardless of the success of the current growing season.
Large chain grocery stores often advertise that they purchase from local farmers “whenever possible”. But who dictates what’s “possible” or cost-effective given the competitive nature of the retail marketplace?
As people become more aware of the foods they consume, there has been a strong push for more transparency. People want to know where their food comes from, how it has been handled, and what growing techniques were used during its production.
Fortunately, there are some companies answering this demand with new products and services aimed at providing consumers with useful information while holding farmers and other food production industries accountable for their products.
One of these companies is known as Gulf Wild. It is an independent company that works directly with local Gulf of Mexico fisherman and seafood wholesalers throughout the Gulf region.
Gulf Wild offers a program that provides accountability and builds consumer confidence by placing a gill tag on each fish caught in the Gulf of Mexico. When that fish is ultimately purchased, the gill tag can be referenced online and allows customers to trace the origin of the fish all the way back to the vessel that originally caught it.
Consumers, restaurants, and retailers can all take advantage of this program. The program allows you to learn where your fish came from, how long ago it was harvested, what port it went through, and any other stops it took on the way to your plate.
This level of transparency forces the fishing industry to practice sustainable fishing methods that are better for the environment, the fish population and ultimately, the consumer.
It’s a great program assuring us that our fish were not raised in some fish farm practicing unsustainable production methods. The rising popularity of the Gulf Wild program will certainly lead to other industries following suit and represents a significant change in the way we purchase food items.
HarvestMark is a food traceability program created by YottaMark, Inc. This program has already made over 5 billion fresh food items traceable using technology that most people have on their smart phones.
The program places a QR code on the product packaging. For those unfamiliar, QR codes are large, scan-able barcodes that are finding increased uses across multiple industries. Simply scanning the code with your smart phone gives you instant access to information about the product’s growing conditions, harvest date, and shipping methods.
Although this technology has not been integrated nationally yet, it demonstrates what we can expect within the next few years as food chain transparency and technology work together to create new solutions for health-conscious consumers.
The Timing is Perfect
One of the best things about this push for food chain transparency is that it comes at a time when many states are considering various “Ag-Gag” bills. If passed, this legislation is designed to prevent investigative reporting at factory farming facilities.
Once again, this proves that the government only worries about its own political and financial issues and cares little for sustainable solutions or the overall health of consumers.
Most of us have seen graphic videos of animal mistreatment at commercial meat production facilities. If you haven’t…do a quick search before your next meal. It’s shocking.
If these bills pass, companies no longer have to worry about the prying eye of the consumer. Although there are many commercial facilities that practice sustainable and humane methods, a lack of transparency and accountability in this industry could result in conditions becoming more disturbing in many locations.
More so than ever before, we must remain vigilant as consumers. We can no longer accept that companies are doing the right thing and producing food using sustainable methods. If we do not demand transparency, we are likely to experience issues with food production unlike anything we have seen to date.
After all, the health of our families depends on purchasing foods made in a sustainable and organic manner. Fortunately, technology is making it possible to hold commercial operations accountable and it is in our best interest to push for widespread adoption of these products throughout all food-centric industries.
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