Factory farms are feeding millions of people globally with suspect sources of unsustainable beef, pork and chickens. These large scale producers of livestock in the United States and Canada have been jeopardizing the food supply.
According to the www.sustainabletable.org, a website devoted to changing the way we think about our food, the problems associated with factory farming include excessive numbers of animals confined closely together, disregard for animal welfare, misuse of pharmaceuticals, mismanagement of animal waste, and socially irresponsible corporate ownership.
In the documentary film "Food Inc," released in 2008, Robert Kenner takes the veil off North American factory food production and exposes the underlying and inherent problems associated with the disconnect between customers and consumers with the farmers and companies that increasingly supply their meat. The film and subsequent book make it very clear that the small group of companies that control the North American food production are unwilling to discuss their business to journalists or the media. These North American companies are beyond secretive, and have often resorted to lawsuits and thinly hidden threats if anyone associated with their business speaks publicly or cooperates in anyway with journalists or documentary filmmakers.
However, Japanese companies and government agencies have been focusing on informing customers, in stark contradiction to North American producers. In June of 2003, the Japanese government passed legislation requiring traceability from the farm through retail sale. On Japanese beef, there exists a 10-digit Individual Identification Number that each cow is assigned at birth (with an ear tag) and this number follows the cow through his life, slaughter and sale to the end customer. The process was put in place after the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the local Japanese cattle herd.
As part of the traceability efforts, Japanese consumers have access to various facts about the meat they purchase and consume. This information is available at the point of retail, in real time. Japanese corporations also helped lead the push on meat traceability and it was not something forced on them by government officials and regulators.
"The Aeon Company has developed one of the most comprehensive assurance systems for domestic Wagyu beef. Under this system, customers can enter a 10-digit code into a computer located in the meat sales area to obtain information about the beef they are purchasing. The consumer can obtain a production record certificate that traces the meat back to the birth of the animal from which it was harvested, the BSE testing certificate, and a photograph of the livestock producer(s). This information is also accessible from the customer's home computer,” reports a 2003 article at the outset of the new traceability regulations.
Currently, a Japanese customer can walk into a local grocery store equipped with a cell phone and find out the following information about the piece of steak they are going to buy -- birth date, sex, breed, location of cattle, transfer status, transfer date and the owners name and address courtesy of the following website, which surprisingly is available in both English and Japanese (www.id.nlbc.go.jp/english/). Many meat specialty shops will verbally provide customers this information as they interact with shop staff.
The Japanese traceability system ensures customers that their beef is safe, and with such free-flowing information, provides a model of success that North American consumers should be taking note of. Japanese food companies have been putting pictures of the farmers and producers of food supplies on packaging for years.
I recently noticed there was a picture on the label of my delicious pastry, as I opened it. It was then explained to me that this system helps Japanese customers feel connected with the producer or farmer. Further than that, it also logically affects the attitude of the farmer or producer. It makes the person directly responsible for the food known to the consumer who will eat the product. This in turn makes the producer more responsible and lowers the chance for negligence. The information provided through a trace of the Individual Identification Number provides the farmer’s name and address, having the same influence on his actions to act responsible.
North America needs to move in the direction Japan has regarding traceability of food sources, specifically meat. The big American food suppliers might be a touch more trust worthy if they were willing to offer all relevant information on animal products at the touch of a button.© Japan Today