retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB had a story yesterday about a new food traceability system called HarvestMark, which has been developed in anticipation of federal regulations that could require some sort of tracking system for the nation’s foods.

MNB user Tom Stenzel, CEO of United Fresh, responded:

Kudos to the folks at HarvestMark, who've created a great way for a producer to get closer to the consumer with codes linking the product back to the farm. They're bringing innovative solutions that help create a personal connection between farm and consumer -- "personal" may be just as important as "local" when shoppers can meet the farmer and see the fields, even if thousands of miles away.

One note of caution for your readers though -- this really doesn't provide supply-chain traceability because there's no way to know where else that produce may be in the distribution chain. You could jump from store to farm on that single package, but you don't know whether that same lot of produce is in multiple stores, DCs, a wholesaler's warehouse, etc. It might help to know that a potentially contaminated item came from a particular farm, but without a way to know everywhere it is in the distribution chain, it doesn't help the industry a whole lot in an outbreak.

The collective produce industry came together last year in the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) to adopt a set of principles and milestones for implementing whole-chain traceability across all produce in the US … This is case-level coding, and is essential in order to track where cases of produce are within the supply chain at any time. Therefore, it's the essential core of real traceability.

Thanks for the illumination.

Earlier this week, MNB noted that Tesco was pointing with pride to a policy that has percent of its waste is going elsewhere than into landfills … including finding alternative uses for some byproducts. For example, Tesco said, unsold meat is chilled and taken to a waste management company, where it is incinerated and turned into energy that drives generator turbines.

Yesterday, the story took another turn…as we reported that the animal rights group Viva complains that this use of meat is “macabre,” and consumers ought to be informed if the energy they are using in their homes is being generated by out-of-date or excess meat.

My comment:

I’m fairly sure that Tesco – like virtually every other major retailer – would prefer that there not be any waste…but it happens, and I would have thought it a good thing that the stuff isn’t just being thrown away.

But that’s okay. If the folks at Viva want to turn off their lights and their computers and their television sets and any other electrical appliances because of how the energy is being generated, that’s okay with me. They’ll like candlelight and fireplace heat. Really they will.

I got some criticism for this…

MNB user Amelia Kirchoff wrote:

Your view is just as extreme as that of Viva. I believe, and in fact know, that there are many wasteful practices at grocery chains and supermarkets. A better response would have been to suggest that it would be nice to hear from the stores themselves on the ways that they are working to reduce the quantity of meat that needs to be thrown out. Perhaps they could donate it to a food shelter just before it expires so it does not have to be incinerated. Given a choice of reuse or recycle, reuse is definitely the better policy.

And another MNB user wrote:

In your response to "Animal Activists Have A Beef With Tesco Energy Policies," you commit the fundamental logical fallacy of a false dichotomy: We must either reject Viva's criticism of Tesco generating energy from discarded meat, or we'll end up reading by candlelight.

Really? There's no other possibility? I expect better from your column.

Sorry to disappoint you.

To be honest, I wasn't really taking the Viva complaint seriously, which sort of informed the tone of the response. I start from a different premise – that it is okay to slaughter animals, cook them and eat them…that a cheeseburger, in fact, is paradise…and that if there is any leftover that can be used to create energy, that seems like a pretty intelligent approach.

You’re right, there are other options. And one would hope that retailers and suppliers aren’t being wantonly wasteful.

I guess there are studies out there suggesting that if we really wanted to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gases, it would be more effective to stop eating meat than it would be to change to hybrid or electric vehicles. But somehow – and I recognize that this reflects my biases and value system – it seems like campaigning for an all-vegetarian world is a more radical solution than changing how our cars are fueled.

Nothing wrong with being a vegetarian. Far from it. But it also seems counter-productive to suggest that when there is leftover meat, it shouldn't be used to create energy.
KC's View: