Consumers want transparency in their food | TSLN.com

Consumers want transparency in their food

Where does our food come from? How does it get from the farmer to the grocery store? There are a lot of stopping points in the food production chain, and today's consumer wants to know more about the story behind the foods they are eating. Transparency in our food supply was the topic of a recent Food Dialogues panel discussion hosted by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). The event took place at Kendall College School of Culinary Arts in Chicago.

The panelists included: Kathleen Merrigan, Former USDA Deputy Secretary; David Fikes, Food Marketing Institute vice president; Lynn Martz, farmer, Martz Family Farm, Maple Park, Ill.; Jayson Lusk, Oklahoma State University agriculture economist and author, "Food Police;" Jim Riddle, Organic Research Grants coordinator, The Ceres Trust, and owner, Blue Fruit Farm; Ellie Krieger, host of Food Network's "Healthy Appetite," and New York Times best-selling cookbook author; Bo Stone, farmer, P & S Farms, Rowland, N.C.; Gene Kahn, former president and CEO of Cascadian Farms; and Brad Nelson, Marriott International Corporate chef and vice president of Culinary.

Here are some highlights from the debate:

Q: What information do consumers want made transparent?

"What consumers want is a difficult question to answer because this answer changes with trends," said Nelson. "It's gone from carbs, to trans fats, to gluten. Sometimes what people really want is just simpler information. I think there has to be a great story or some background on where it's from and how it got there."

"But, there's more to it. Consumers want to know allergens, whether it's organic or not and how it's produced," argued Fikes.

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"Consumers want simple things like nutrition, food safety and price," added Stone. "That's why I'm here as a farmer. I want folks to know that we value things like animal welfare, food safety, environmental stewardship. I'm comfortable with the foods that I'm producing, and I want consumers to know of the good things we are doing."

Q: What are the challenges to make complex information more understandable to consumers?

"The answer is to provide what is relevant. Consumers will tell us what is relevant, and it's our job to explore what things are relevant. The trade off of disclosure is responsibility that we don't cause excessive burden," said Kahn.

"The market will dictate the way labels will evolve," said Fikes.

"When we're talking about a voluntary label, I think we should let it run its course, so we can see what clicks with society," said Merrigan.

"As a farmer, mom and grandma, I still get confused when I go to the grocery store. It's an education process. Part of what we do on my farm is welcome folks out, so they can get to know where their food comes from," said Martz.

"What happens on our farm isn't the same as what happens on other farms, but we still subscribe to the same values and practices to make a wholesome, safe product," said Gilmer.

Q: Who do you think is responsible for making the information available?

"It's a difficult question to lump into one answer because of the choices that individuals want to be able to make," Nelson. "Allergens have been a huge issue for consumers. People are much more forthcoming and demanding and up-front about what their needs are. It requires us to have the right information. People don't want to read labels on menus. When we design and develop and item, we have broad-based statements about our sourcing, or the fact that it's gluten-free, it provides more information and starts a dialogue, so consumers can then ask more questions. The big challenge is getting that information in front of people."

"Different claims are not all the same," said Kahn. "Health and safety claims need to be verifiable by the government. Environmental claims are different, but they still have to be truthful. We have to distinguish these claims."

For the complete discussion, check out http://www.fooddialogues.com.

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