More of today's consumers crave information about food and how it's produced, but the latest consumer trust research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) found that most want even more. Only 28% strongly agree with the following statement: “I have access to all the information I want about where my food comes from, how it's produced and its safety.” Charlie Arnot, chief executive officer of CFI, said, “Having posed this question for eight straight years, we see that food system efforts are paying off as the long-term trend shows more consumers agreeing, but the overall number must rise if the goal is to earn consumer trust. The industry still has work to do.” “Consumers have a right to know what is in their food and where it comes from,” said Deb Arcoleo, director of product transparency at The Hershey Co.
Six years ago, only a few U.S. cities had food policy directors — strategists tasked with connecting communities with local farm products and improving access to food in underserved neighborhoods. Now, in line with a national push to improve access to healthy foods and support urban agriculture, nearly 20 cities have them. The shift reflects a growing consensus that boosting availability of locally grown food helps people to eat healthier, supports small and midsize farms, and protects the environment by emphasizing sustainable farming practices. And state and local officials are taking steps to ensure that healthy local food is accessible to people of all income levels, not just those who can afford to shop at the growing number of trendy urban farmers markets across the country. This year, Kansas expanded a task force that looks for ways to train farmers and expand access to locally produced food, Louisiana mandated that the state school system develop a farm-to-school program, and the Florida Legislature made it possible for more farmers market vendors to accept food stamps. Over the last 30 years, others have created nearly 300 state and regional food policy councils that bring governments and advocates together to work on food policy issues. In 2015, Hawaii allocated money for a farm-to-school program and California boosted funding for a program that encourages welfare recipients to buy fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California.
As the saying goes, the customer is always right. Over the past year, the U.S. food industry – grocers, restaurants, foodservice and hospitality – rapidly pledged to serve only cage-free eggs in the next 20 years. Led by McDonald's Corp.’s landmark announcement in 2015, retailers are saying they are switching because that’s what their consumers want and it makes business sense in the long run. Egg producers have good reasons to grumble about the change:Cage-free housing is going to cost the industry billions of dollars and will force changes in husbandry and production expectations.The egg and food industries partnered to study the issue scientifically and cage-free wasn’t the best option available.Cage-free egg production on the scale necessary to complete pledges might not be possible before the key year of 2025. The biggest gripe, raised by the industry at United Egg Producers (UEP) meetings in summer and fall 2016, is that cage-free eggs just aren’t selling nearly as well as conventionally raised eggs. This fact can be used to undermine the food companies’ claims about consumer preferences forcing their hand.
The debate around policing food and controlling the diets of others has been largely captive to the elite and monetized by special interest groups like the $125 million DC-based “non-profit” sponsoring the $2 million Question 3 campaign. I’ve been through homelessness and poverty, and as a potential victim of Question 3, I am crashing their exclusive party. The deceptive ballot statement makes no mention of consumer impacts or animal welfare trade-offs. Question 3 will significantly raise the cost of our most affordable and accessible protein choices, not to mention leaving these farm animals unprotected among their own aggressive natural behaviors, which will harm, injure, and kill more chickens and hogs.
A consumer “vote” with every purchase may become easier to tally. Food activist groups will reunite to seek full transparency next. Faber says consumers want access to complete lists of ingredients—including potential allergens—in all the foods they buy, as well as seed-to-table tracking of ingredients and disclosures about fair wage practices. This data can be organized with the “internet of things” technology that has revolutionized other industries. Recent food poisoning incidents have added urgency to tracking efforts. But the food industry isn’t clueless, says Charlie Arnot, CEO of The Center for Food Integrity, an industry group whose members include Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont. Full transparency is necessary if big food companies want to regain consumer trust, he says. Arnot founded The Center for Food Integrity in 2007, in partnership with the Indiana Department of Agriculture, to bolster the image of large food companies under fire from consumer advocates. Big food companies felt “the public moving away from us,” he says. The anti-GMO movement was just the most visible evidence. The research from those early years was sobering. “The public believes food companies put profit ahead of consumer health and safety,” he says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved commercial planting of two types of potatoes that are genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine. The approval announced Friday covers Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co.’s Ranger Russet and Atlantic varieties of the company’s second generation of Innate potatoes. The company says the potatoes will also have reduced bruising and black spots, enhanced storage capacity, and a reduced amount of a chemical created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures that’s a potential carcinogen.
The call for food transparency continues to build, and with it, the use of terms like “natural,” “hyper-local” and “antibiotic-free” in conversations around our food. When it comes to meat, discussions include the added dimensions of livestock care and processing, complicating the labeling of meat products well beyond what’s needed for an organic banana or a package of fiber cereal. So what exactly do these meat labels mean, and what are the nuances? But perhaps more importantly, do consumers really want “cleaner” meat? From a total U.S. consumption perspective, the short answer is yes. Sales growth for some of the meat label claims with the highest shares (natural, antibiotic-free and hormone free) is rapidly outpacing that of conventional meat. From 2011 to 2015, conventional meat posted compound annual sales growth of 4.6%. Comparatively, products with a natural label posted growth of 14.6%, products labeled antibiotic-free posted growth of 28.7%, products labeled hormone-free posted growth of 28.6% and products labeled organic posted growth of 44%. Meanwhile, sales growth of products labeled “minimally processed,” another top claim, declined 1.6% from 2011 to 2015.
There may be more improbable culinary trails than the one that leads from a red clay road here in the country’s most prolific peanut-growing state to Beyoncé’s plate at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. But as zero-to-hero food tales go, this is a good one. The star of the story is cold-pressed green peanut oil, which some of the best cooks in the South have come to think of as their local answer to extra-virgin olive oil. Buttery, slightly vegetal and hard to find, Southern green peanut oil is a new entry into the growing regional oil game. This is not the peanut oil that slicks countless woks and fills Chick-fil-A fryers, though it is made from the same runner peanuts. The nuts are pressed at low temperatures in a machine smaller than a golf bag in the back of a building that isn’t much more than a shack, on Clay Oliver’s farm. He lives about 150 miles south of Atlanta, and makes some 400 gallons a year. Chefs turn poetic when they describe it.
Spinach is no longer just a superfood: By embedding leaves with carbon nanotubes, engineers have transformed spinach plants into sensors that can detect explosives and wirelessly relay that information to a handheld device similar to a smartphone.
Alaska’s Board of Agriculture and Conservation has issued another request for proposals to lease or purchase the long struggling Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage plant in Palmer after several failed efforts and a looming closure in summer 2017. The meat plant is the only USDA-approved slaughter and processing facility in Southcentral Alaska, which the state has operated since 1986 as an asset of its Agricultural Revolving Loan Fund. State officials said preference will be given to bidders who plan to continue slaughter and processing operations at the property. The new deadline to submit proposals is 4 p.m. on Nov. 28.