It seems like every article I read today mentions sustainability or transparency. We’re constantly being told the consumer is demanding new levels of transparency. They not only want to know their food is safe, but where, how and who produced it.
Food seems to be at the forefront of the transparency movement. It is, after all, a critically important purchase from a health and safety standpoint. Plus, I think some consumers see it as a connection to nature and the environment.
The notion of transparency does include concerns regarding nutrition and safety, but the primary focus seems to be the environment, animal welfare, sustainability and other value issues or moral judgments about how and who should produce our food.
Transparency is crucial because the alternative is no longer an option in today’s information age. And the only question about transparency in today’s world is who will provide it. If the individual operation and industry doesn’t, activist groups will. And the odds are that we will be better served by shaping how the information is presented and released.
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But determining what metrics to use and how to calculate them are critically important. For instance, consumers may desire to know the carbon footprint or environmental impact of the food they eat. However, I’m guessing the industry’s standards and metric might be far more representative than the metric that the Humane Society of the United States would develop for us.
Transparency means different things to different people. The industry views transparency as being open, honest and effective in communicating with consumers about how their food is produced. The groups opposed to livestock production view transparency as a means to create negative perceptions among consumers about our industry. The bottom line is that developing a comprehensive strategy to effectively deal with transparency in a positive way with consumers will likely be a top five priority for the industry over the next 3-5 years.
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