Monday, October 20, 2008


In to day's world the consumer is constantly being bombarded by the government, industry, marketeers, retailers, consumer activists, news media and scientific community with tons of information and advice, many of them often conflicting putting him in real danger of losing his balance in taking right eating decisions. There are Recommended Dietary Allowances(RDA) based on which governments try to protect the consumers through national policies and various intervention modes besides ensuring safety of foods that emanate from the farms and processing industry. The aggressive salt restriction policy in UK and other countries is a classical example as to how governments try to induce changes in the diets for the sake of protecting consumers from diseases such as hypertension. The policy initiatives in California to ban setting up of fast food joints near some residential areas are meant to arrest the trend of growing obesity attributed to the fast foods rich in fats including trans fats.

With food sourcing from different parts of the world becoming a norm for the processing industry, accountability for quality and safety is becoming increasingly complicated and this has led a country like USA to insist on including information about the "country of origin" on the label with the hope that consumers will pick and choose products from countries with established safety credentials and thus indirectly put pressure on exporting countries to tighten their regulatory regimes over a period of time to face competition. Green food/organic food movements also originated precisely to help consumers to pick up absolutely safe foods though how far practical it is if the entire world's food needs are to be met through this mode, remains to be seen. Even after two decades since the trend became discernible, the share of organic foods is less than 2% of the marketed foods.

Local produce movement started in USA wants preference to be given to locally grown food produce by the retailers, the presumption being that they are free from chemicals and less CO2 is emitted by the operations like growing, cleaning, packing, storing and distribution. The protagonists of this approach also seem to believe that locally grown produce is more reliable and dependable as the farms are nearby and consumers can also feel being a part of the farming community approachable easily from the marketing centers. The fact that the retailing giant Wall-marts is investing $400 million for a program to procure and stock local produce in some of their outlets, has given some respectability to the concept of local produce consumption. It is not clear whether the movement is driven by a genuine aspiration by the consumers for more fresh foods, made possible by minimum lapse of time between harvesting and putting on the market shelves or by social awareness about carbon prints with local produce scoring over produce grown at far away places. It also has a built in bias against imported food produce and if the movement gains momentum, the repercussions on the international trade in foods can be very significant. Globalization will have very little meaning if such sentiments become prevalent posing another trade barrier against the developing countries.

A crucial question is whether this movement is sustainable in the long term and how the logistics of growing near urban consumption centers can be managed. What will happen to the enormous investments that have gone into creating infrastructure for transportation of perishables by air, road, rail and ships world over? Probably it will turn out to be an Utopian dream with no chance of success beyond a few pockets here and there.


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