The simple reality is that the food business is subject to fraud, greed, corruption and exploitation just like any other business on the planet—agriculture or nonagriculture alike.
The unfortunate series of events dubbed “Field of Schemes” revealed that more than $142 million in sold grain was marketed as organic, but most was not indeed organic. It’s one example that exposed the fact that the marketing side of the current healthy and natural kick far outpaces the logistical, legal and regulatory aspects that are clearly not fully baked.
Right now in the U.S., consumers place their trust in more than 80 groups that are in the business of selling “stickers” that their clients—people who pay them and keep them in business—use on their products’ labels. The consumer, especially after this incident, has the right to demand proof that ingredients are truly what they say they are, and they should have the right to know where ingredients originated.
And the farmer is missing an opportunity, too. If a product such as organic grain can be sold at a premi-um, then shouldn’t it have to be proven?
Just having a non-GMO label on the side of a Cheerios box is no longer good enough. It probably never was.
The incident referenced earlier had eight years of data probed. More than 11 million bushels of grain were sold in that period, and 90% was falsely marketed as organic. That’s enough to fill 3,600 rail cars or 14,375 semitrailers.
This whole incident and probably hundreds and maybe thousands of others like it scream for the industry to demand and put into practice the technology that exists today to digitally track ingredients from each individual field, from each individual farmer, from each individual bin, to each individual truck until it is delivered directly to the processor.
All these words that we love to throw about—traceability; sustainability; and, yes, blockchain—apply here big time. It is time to stop talking and time to start doing. Otherwise, somebody from outside the industry will make the rules and most likely make it harder for the industry to pursue this growth area of business.
During the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan was in talks with the Soviet Union about limiting and dismantling nuclear warheads pointed at other countries, he would use the phrase “trust but verify.” Here, we’re not talking nuclear armageddon, but the meaning of those words fits so well.
We need a system that we can trust—one that doesn’t just slap a cheap “sticker” on the side of a box of food. No, one that earns trust by transparently putting the digital tools and processes in place to monitor the supply chain. Those practices give true meaning to what that sticker should represent. It is way past time.