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Food Companies on the Front Line of a Transparency Revolution

Numbers found on cans of tuna provide the combination to unlock a wealth of information. It’s yet another example of the food system recognizing consumer demand for information and embracing transparency.

Chicken of the Sea’s traceability website allows consumers to enter a 10-to-15 digit number found on the bottom of certain tuna products. In return, the consumer can read a description of the species; where the seafood was caught, including a map and a species-specific stock status report from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation; the fishing method used; the fishing vessel; where the seafood was processed; where the seafood was canned; and general information on the company’s sustainability initiatives. The company says it will eventually expand the program to its entire shelf-stable line.

“It is important for our customers to have an opportunity to know the story behind their fish,” said Chicken of the Sea’s director of sustainability. “Traceability is an essential step.”

Former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman recently suggested that the long and contentious GMO labeling law debate could force a transparency revolution. There’s no doubt that farmers and food makers need to be aggressive in opening their doors and letting consumers see how food is produced, but in reality, a transparency revolution is already underway.

Chicken of the Sea’s new program is a good example, but only one of many.

Hershey’s commitment to increased transparency and move to simpler ingredients goes back to 2015. The company’s website now provides an A-to-Z glossary of all its ingredients with easy-to-understand descriptions.

Leading food, beverage and consumer products companies last December unveiled SmartLabel to empower consumers to access a myriad of information with a simple bar code scan or click of a website.  The technology puts nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party verifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories and safe handling instructions at consumers’ finger tips in a standardized format.

At California’s JS West and Companies, a leading egg producer, cameras in the barns allow online visitors to see what the hens are doing 24 hours a day. Visitors to the site are welcome to leave comments about what they see.

New Jersey-based Catelli Brothers has installed a 12-camera system at its veal plant that monitors the facility in real time. A third-party generates a daily report on animal treatment.

At Indiana’s Fair Oaks Farms, the doors are open for thousands of visitors every year to look through glass walls to see how real dairies produce milk and how pigs are born and cared for. The founders of the company say they have nothing to hide and want the public to see how their animals are treated.

CCFI research proves that increased transparency is a powerful tool to earn consumer trust. People today expect transparency and want to see how food is produced. Consumers want the ability to engage and get questions answered promptly and in easy-to-understand language. They want to see how food is produced, who’s producing it, what’s in it and how it impacts their health.

A growing number of farms and food companies are engaged in the transparency revolution and pulling back the curtain, which should be applauded. Critics who intentionally disregard the progress toward greater transparency only serve to discourage it by refusing to give credit where credit is due. So, food system critics are encouraged to be transparent about genuine progress among food producers just as producers who have yet to embrace transparency need to be encouraged to build on the positive momentum. There is no denying the ability of transparency to increase consumer trust.