Food Critics Should Be More Transparent About Transparency

Some suggest the GMO labeling law debate could spur a forced transparency revolution. I couldn't agree more that farmers and food makers need to be aggressive in opening their doors and letting consumers see how food is produced, but in reality, a transparency revolution is already underway. Critics who fail to acknowledge self-driven progress among food producers do a disservice equal to that of food producers who fail to embrace the need for transparency.

There are a broad range of voluntary transparency initiatives underway with more in development. For example, Hershey's commitment to increased transparency and move to simpler ingredients goes back to 2015. The company's website now provides an A-to-Z glossary of all its ingredients with easy-to-understand descriptions.

Leading food, beverage and consumer products companies last December unveiled SmartLabel to empower consumers to access a myriad of information with a simple bar code scan or click of a website. The technology puts nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party verifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories and safe handling instructions at consumers' finger tips in a standardized format.

At California's JS West and Companies, a leading egg producer, there are cameras in the barns that allow website visitors to see what the hens are doing 24 hours a day. Visitors to the site are welcome to leave comments about what they see.

New Jersey-based Catelli Brothers has installed a 12-camera system at its veal plant that monitors the facility in real time. A third-party generates a daily report on animal treatment.

At Indiana's Fair Oaks Farms, the doors are open for thousands of visitors every year to look through glass walls to see how real dairies produce milk and how pigs are born and cared for. The founders of the company say they have nothing to hide and want the public to see how their animals are treated.

These are just a few examples of how food companies and livestock producers have committed to providing as much information as possible to consumers, who are today far removed from the farm and food production. At the same time, the public is bombarded with information from a multitude of sources, much of it conflicting. It's no surprise that new technology is met with skepticism, making it much more important that food producers are transparent.

Research by The Center for Food Integrity proves that increased transparency is a powerful tool to earn consumer trust. People today expect transparency and want to see how food is produced. Consumers want the ability to engage and get questions answered promptly and in easy-to-understand language. They want to see how food is produced, who's producing it, what's in it and how it impacts their health. A growing number of farms and food companies are engaged in the transparency revolution and pulling back the curtain, which I applaud.

Critics who intentionally disregard the progress toward greater transparency only serve to discourage it by refusing to give credit where credit is due. So, I encourage food system critics to be transparent about genuine progress among food producers just as I encourage producers who haven't yet embraced transparency to build on the positive momentum. There is no denying the ability of transparency to increase consumer trust.