The very DNA of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value, not consumer value. The corporation’s need to sell product, and the competition nipping at their toes, theoretically ensures they do what is best for the customer. It’s the model our society operates on. And as a society we believe the ‘cost’ of damaged relationships will stop corporations from blatantly taking advantage of us.
Every day we trust the ‘customer is king’ mantra to protect us, with help from government regulations I should add. However, this only works if two important conditions exist:
- As customers we know when we are being taken advantage of
- There is healthy competition, giving use the option to switch suppliers
BUT how does this work when we can’t tell if we are being cheated? Based on research into the food supply chain, it doesn’t work well. A growing body of evidence shows just how bad it is:
- 25 to 75 percent of seafood according to Oceana studies,
- 30 percent or more of spices (in a yet to be published report),
- One third of herbal supplements
And who can forget the horse meat scandal in Europe? Or what about the challenges Cadbury is facing in Malaysia right now? Researchers from the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario indicate problems exist in many food categories: meat, seafood, spices, coffee, tea, chocolates, natural health supplements, pet foods, and even cosmetics. Once food has been processed it can be nearly impossible to know what it is without DNA testing.
So how can consumers know what they are eating? The Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, as part of the international Barcode of Life project, recently released a solution for consumers. The primary goal of the LifeScanner project is to crowdsource the documentation of the planet’s species, with the help of easy-to-use DNA kits and an iPhone application. BUT consumers can use those same kits to sample their foods and send it in for testing.
With the help of LifeScanner we can now know when we are being taken advantage of. But that only addresses part of the challenge. It doesn’t answer the question, “Who is the culprit?” Take Cadbury as an example. I highly doubt Cadbury deliberately used porcine-based gelatin in their chocolate recipe instead of non-animal gelatin; it’s their brand on the line after all! Likely a supplier sold Cadbury a misrepresented product; or maybe it was one of the supplier’s suppliers.
The food industry is dealing with a supply chain based on trust. Finding the breakdown can be solved with technology. Integrating DNA-testing into supply-chain visibility solutions will shine a light into the deceptive practices of some suppliers. Every customer in the food supply chain benefits, most importantly the consumer.