Environment

farmers market, produce
M. Spencer Green/AP
Farmers Market in Federal Plaza, Chicago.

Web Makes Food Production More Transparent for Consumers

November 07, 2009 12:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
A popular brand of flour is using the Web to increase traceability, and IBM is set to release a traceability iPhone app, illustrating how technology can influence food safety and aid environmental movements.

Tracing Food From Farm to Plate

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The concept of traceability, which can also protect consumers from food-borne illnesses, is growing with help from the Web. In March, the makers of Stone-Buhr flour, a prominent brand on the West Coast, launched a Web site that enables customers to learn where the product came from and forge relationships with wheat farmers.

According to The New York Times, Stone-Burh's Find the Farmer Web site is the basis of the brand's traceability efforts, but bags of their flour also have labels informing consumers about the wheat farmers and production process. Chocolate makers and banana producers, including Dole, have also begun "using the Internet to create relationships between consumers and farmers," The Times reports.

In October, IBM announced a new food traceability initiative. According to Richard MacManus of ReadWriteWeb, IBM will soon release a new iPhone application named Breadcrumbs, which "will give consumers access to information about grocery food items." The app presents ingredient summaries and manufacturing dates, but also takes food label data to another level, providing shoppers with "product recall data."
Congress has been considering how Internet-aided traceability might reduce food scares, such as the peanut butter recall after the salmonella outbreak last January.

Traceability could soon become ubiquitous in the food industry. Maine newspaper the Bangor Daily News reported on the recent Canadian-United States Lobstermen's Town Meeting, where traceability was a key topic of discussion. The lobster industry is preparing for 2010 European Union regulations that "will require that all imported seafood be traceable to its source." Attendees also discussed linking traceability information to the outside world via the Internet.

But it could take time for the concept to take hold. Cathy Billings of the University of Maine Lobster Institute told the Bangor Daily News, "A lot of fishermen don't know what traceability is. It's going to be a safety issue and a human health issue."

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Analysis: Food traceability

Amber Waves, a publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, provides thorough analysis of food traceability, outlining what it is and what it does. Traceability can enhance safety and quality control, and be useful for marketing and differentiating foods. The question of traceability in the private sector and options for enhancing traceability are also discussed.

Recent Development: IBM traceability

IBM food traceability initiatives are also underway in Norway, Germany and Canada. The company is using "[t]rack and trace technology, including 2D and 3D barcode and radio frequency identification" to offer consumers and producers total transparency from "farm to fork." The race for traceability goes beyond safety concerns, however, as "Government regulations and industry requirements ... are driving food producers around the world to provide more detail on products."

Related Topic: Al Gore's .eco campaign; Social media promotes environmental causes

Former Vice President Al Gore and his Alliance for Climate Protection group have teamed with Dot Eco LLC in calling for "a new top-level domain for environmental websites," according to The Christian Science Monitor. The domain name ".eco" would be for individuals, companies and organizations supporting or leading environmental causes.

Social media platforms such as Twitter are becoming increasingly useful for promoting environmental causes, according to Mashable, a blog on social media. A startup called Climate Culture, for example, has launched a contest to find the greenest American college campus and is promoted by viral video.

Reference: Find the Farmer

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