Saturday, March 21, 2009


The widespread awareness about global warming and its consequences, attributed to emission of greenhouse gases like CO2 generated by burning of fossil fuels, seems to be creating new opportunities for the food industry to use this as another competitive tool in marketing. Many manufacturers are attempting to bring out products with zero carbon foot prints by taking remedial action to neutralize the unavoidable emissions, which are part and parcel of the food processing system. Auditing of CO2 emission at various stages of production and processing is fraught with many uncertainties but can still be achieved by breaking the operations into different steps and estimating CO2 produced during each step. In dairy operations various steps involved consists of preparation of the land, its maintenance, transporting calves to the farms, raising the animals, preparation of feeds, feeding operations, milking, cold stores, processing, packing, storing, refrigerated distribution, market display etc. Invariably all these steps make use of fossil fuels generating CO2. Wherever alternate sustainable energy sources are used to manage some operations, the extent of emission gets reduced to some extent.
Pepsico, one of the global giants in the food processing area, is often reviled for its supposedly inadequate commitment to the welfare of the society which sustains its very survival. Without getting into the veracity of such blames, the fact remains that they are the leaders in the latest movement amongst the industry to voluntarily declare on the labels of some of their products the extent of CO2 released by each pack till it is placed on the market shelf. It admits that each half gallon carton of its Tropicana orange juice on the market shelves is responsible for 3.75 pounds of CO2 emission into the atmosphere. According to them biggest source of emission was growing the fruit itself. Citrus groves use a lot of nitrogenous fertilizers which require large quantities of natural gas during its manufacture. Besides when these fertilizers are spread on the field they themselves can turn into a potent green house gas, accounting for one third of the total emission assigned to the processed product.
There are many organizations engaged in green rating any human activity including college education. Princeton Review, a US based set up evaluates colleges for their green credentials on a scale of 60-99 based on environmental practices, policies, course offerings etc. Assessment of industries on a green scale of 1-5 is being carried out in some parts of the world and a median score of 3 is considered satisfactory while 5 is excellent and 1 is very poor. Food and drinks industry has been assigned a score of 2.54 indicating the need for considerable efforts to improve the score through much more commitment. There are products being put on the shelves with distinct Carbon Foot Print tags to exploit the sentiments amongst the consumers regarding the need for restricting emission of green house gases. In the case of food industry direct emission accounts for only 14% of the total emission while pre-manufacturing supply chain causes the rest. 
How far these scales are realistic and accurate? Probably they can at best be very approximate and considerable scope exists to manipulate the score by differences in interpretation and difficulties in getting true emission figures for the supply chain activities. As far as the consumers are concerned product selection becomes difficult based on green scale score only. There can be many products with low green score but they may not be good from the health point of view. Products from developing countries will invariably score better when compared to those from industrialized countries where use of fossil fuel is extensive due to scarcity of labor and over mechanization of many operations is the normal norm adding to the emission score. This could be one of the reasons for countries like USA to insist on putting on the label the name of the country from where products like meat are sourced, hoping that indigenous products, though high in green score, are conceived as safer, exploiting the pathogen scare that is an over riding concern for any consumer. A better proposition will be to combine the health value and the green score of each food product and come up with a new system of scoring that will reflect the true value of that product. How this can be achieved is a matter for consideration by the industry for the sake of their customers.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Green assessments in the supply chain is fairly new. Even if the scales are not entirely accurate, I opine that it is a good start.