Food Traceability Gaining Popularity as Consumers Demand Transparency

Growing consumer interest in food provenance and production methods is leading to a spike in traceability schemes. Ecovia Intelligence (Organic Monitor) finds a growing number of certification schemes and analytical tools are helping food companies provide transparency.

Traceability schemes were initially introduced to track agricultural commodities from developing countries, such as coffee, cocoa and tea. Consumer concerns about food safety have led to new traceability schemes for a wide range of ingredients, including soya, sugar, corn and maize.

Most developments are in North America where divisions in the food industry about GM labeling have led to a rise in voluntary traceability schemes. As shown at Sustainable Foods Summit North America, Non-GMO Project Verified is the most popular with over 22,000 certified products. Sales of certified products have increased from nothing to over US $7 billion within 5 years.

Organic food sales are also benefiting. Concerns about pesticides, growth promoters, as well as GMOs, are fueling consumer demand. Organic food sales have reached US $32 billion in USA, comprising over 4% of total food sales.

Traceability schemes are also becoming popular because of concerns about ethical sourcing. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification scheme is well-established for seafood, the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) for palm oil, whilst similar sustainability schemes are emerging for other ingredients. Bonsucro is a sustainability scheme for cane sugar, whilst ProTerra is one of many sustainability schemes for soya.

The rising incidence in food fraud is also making food traceability prominent. The recent horsemeat scandal highlighted the potential scale of mislabeling and fraud in the food industry. It is estimated that up to 10% of all food products could be adulterated.

A growing array of analytical and software tools are being used for food authenticity / traceability purposes. Global ID, a leading inspection agency, is using DNA fingerprinting and isotope analysis to detect GMOs and authenticate food origins. Others, such as FoodReg, are developing specialised software solutions to ‘track and tell’ ingredient origins.

Ecovia Intelligence (Organic Monitor) finds the growing importance of transparency is presenting fresh challenges to the food industry. Food companies and retailers have to decide what food ingredients / products to focus on, and then select suitable traceability / sustainability schemes. Another challenge is standardization and / or possible harmonization of these schemes. Such issues are regularly discussed at the Sustainable Foods Summit. This international series of summits is now hosted in North & Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific.

Posted: 16th January 2015

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