May 26: University of Guelph study shows increasing desire for food traceability among young consumers
According to a recent study of undergraduate students at the University of Guelph, having the ability to trace food from the farm to the grocery store is becoming increasingly important to young consumers.
Led by professor Sylvain Charlebois and post-doctoral fellow Sanaz Haritifar, students were surveyed about their knowledge, attitudes and practices relating to food traceability with a specific focus on dairy products. The study has been published in the Journal of Dairy Science, a top agricultural publication.
In their survey responses, the majority of participants who read food labels indicated their decision to purchase was strongly influenced by the product information provided. According to Charlebois, these results suggest that embracing food traceability could stimulate demand for products such as raw and organic milk by ensuring their integrity. The study also states that traceability has the potential to “empower consumers to protect themselves.”
“The more you empower consumers, the better,” said Charlebois. “Fluid milk consumption per capita has been dropping for 30 years and traceability can be used to reassure markets in terms of milk origin. People may consume less fluid milk, but they’ll pay more for it.”
A greater commitment to traceability efforts would be instrumental in the fight against food fraud, which has captured headlines in recent years. One of the most notable examples is the so-called “horse meat scandal” in the UK where horse DNA was discovered in frozen beef burgers.
“Right now, approximately 30% of all food in Europe is mislabelled. Consumers can’t be completely confident in where their food comes from,” said Charlebois, who is currently teaching at the Management Center Innsbruck in Austria. “Food safety is important to consumers, but the notion of food integrity is what is really building a case for food traceability.”
As for Canada’s commitment to food traceability, Charlebois stressed there is much room for improvement compared to other countries. In a November 2014 food safety report for the Conference Board of Canada, 17 developed countries were evaluated for their food traceability efforts. Out of those countries, 13 ranked “superior” while four, including Canada, ranked as “average.”
“If we can showcase how important supply chain transparency is to consumers, we have the potential to influence policy” Charlebois added. “A lot of things could change if you give consumers the ability to gauge mislabelling.”