Greater transparency can improve food safety and consumer trust
How can consumers gain full confidence in horticultural production?
Over the last few years, several devastating food poisoning outbreaks have occurred that have unfortunately been linked to the horticulture industry. Clearly, harmful pathogens have been making their way into the horticultural supply chain – even though reputable producers comply with governments’ food safety standards and adhere to the standards of certified food assurance schemes. Consequently, consumer trust is damaged. As Peter Maes, director of marketing at Koppert Biological Systems, says: “These outbreaks do affect people. Consumers should have full confidence and trust in the way their food is produced – but there are too many incidences that prove that there is still a way to go to make sure that these outbreaks do not happen again.”
Supply chain transparency key to gaining consumer trust
Maes also highlighted the “megaphone” effect that social media can have on the horticulture industry when the public is alerted to food safety concerns. “That is why our industry needs to gain maximum transparency. When there is transparency and openness there is a greater possibility to gain consumer trust again. We need better processes in place to enable an open [food supply] chain from the beginning of the growing process to the consumers, so they know exactly how it [their food]’s been made.” Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, has similar sentiments. “Such outbreaks have the potential to do significant damage to public opinion. That’s why we have to have very sophisticated checks and balances in place to make sure that these problems don’t reach the consumer.” Ward agrees that sharing information is key to helping ensure that foodborne pathogens do not contaminate fresh produce. He also says that food safety is not just a natural science issue – it is also about social science. “It’s about ‘horizon scanning’ – working out what the probability is of potential food scares.” He adds: “The protocols that we operate for the retailers do a good job in ensuring that UK consumers are protected against those types of incidences – particularly on [horticulture] crops where there’s very little processing.”
Big data could aid safer food production
Maes points out that safer food production and greater transparency in the food chain will be made possible through those new and emerging technologies that are gaining (or expected to gain) traction in horticulture. These include sensing technologies, big data, and 5G. “With these technologies, everyone can share the same data on the same platform. Currently, every part of the horticultural supply chain is checking what the previous part of the chain has done regarding food safety and quality. But the new possibility of mobile information transfer is going to speed things up exponentially.”
Looking at growing systems holistically
Maes adds that, whilst not a silver bullet for controlling pests and diseases, the use of increasingly popular plant growth and crop resilience products, such as Koppert’s NatuGro range, can help fresh produce crops better stand up to such threats. “It’s about looking at the growing system holistically – how can we create the circumstances in which the plants have maximum balance and a natural resilience to these stresses.”
For more information on Koppert’s products visit https://www.koppert.com/
For more information on British Growers Association visit britishgrowers.org
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