Consumers distrustful of ‘big food’ companies turn to local food

Mounting hepatitis cases linked to frozen berries supplied by frozen desserts and pie manufacturer Patties Foods is another in a long list of food blights fuelling consumer distrust in “big food” companies.

Aided by consumer movements and the information explosion, fed up consumers are turning in greater numbers towards local food.

Terry Fleck, executive director of the Centre for Food Integrity in the US, recently remarked: “Trust in our food system is very fragile.” As the production of food has become industrialised, the public increasingly sees it as an “institution” to be questioned, its motives to be doubted, Fleck said.

90 percent of people surveyed by the non-profit centre in 2013, believed large food companies were likely to put their own interests ahead of the publics’. When it comes to values, people automatically assume big companies have none, Fleck said.

This month, Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison, announced on Fortune that the company would slash costs by $200 million a year in response to declining profits. She blamed Campbell’s hard-luck times on consumer distrust in big food makers.

With responsibility for our food supply lurking amongst an abstract entity of food regulators, corporations, off-shore food producers, retailers and politicians, it can be impossible to find anyone accountable when things go wrong. Increasingly, we are seeking a human face we can trust when it comes to our food.

Our distance from the source of our food comes with many problems. Shareholder and corporate power make ‘big food’ a faceless industry that compromises our health for profits. Armed with political and economic might, they wield the power to avoid scrutiny, successfully opposing steps to improve food labeling regulations and other measures that might make them accountable.

Consumers are wising up. Increasingly, we care about things like how and where food is produced, ethical issues such as how workers and animals are treated, the impact on the environment, and the tenuous relationship between our health and the food we eat.

The criticisms leveled against big food companies are no small deal. They range from lack of transparency and intentional deception of consumers to the promotion and supply of cheap, unhealthy pesticide and chemical laden food to the masses.

Recent food scandals across Australia include egg farmers cashing in on fake free range eggs and revelations that Coles’ “freshly baked bread” was actually baked and frozen overseas. Current concerns focus on the risk to health from imported produce from countries with much weaker food safety standards.

‘Big food’ is additionally roasting its reputation with its ties to agribusiness including immoral multinational pesticide corporations, animal factory farming, and exploitative labour practices.

The biggest opponents of a measure to label genetically engineered food in the U.S., comes from the world’s six largest pesticide corporations. They’ve collectively pledged more than $20 million to keep consumers in the dark.

In a global economy ruled by multinational corporations, it’s difficult to understand where our food comes from and what exactly is in it.

9 in 10 Australians prefer buying food grown and manufactured here according to a report by Food Magazine, while over 90 per cent in a South Australian study said they investigate food label information. Yet, finding local food in the supermarket aisle can be frustrating due to inadequate food labeling laws.

It’s an issue Independent MP Nick Xenophon claims to have been campaigning on since 2008. “Current Australian labelling laws don’t even allow consumers the opportunity to know the origins of the food they are purchasing and consuming. In fact, in many cases, these laws are less than useless – they are downright misleading,” he justly raved on his website.

Buying fresh from the farm is one way to circumvent this issue. And, in what’s been termed ‘the real food revolution’, demand for fresh, quality, locally produced food is booming in Australia and across the world.

“Direct paddock-to-plate and lower food-mile shopping is without doubt one of the most significant changes in the past decade in our national foodscape,’ said Jane Adams, national spokesperson for AFMA – the Australian Farmers’ Market Association.

Adams reports that the number of farmers markets have doubled between 2004 and 2011 with increasing steady growth since then, and long-term sustainability. Last year 14 per cent of people in an Australian survey reported they mostly buy their vegies from a farmers market, with a further 4 per cent buying direct from a farm or roadside stall.

Currently there are at least 160 farmers markets in Australia according to Adams’ estimates. Prior to 1999, farmers markets didn’t exist at all.

Non-profit Food co-operatives provide an alternative to big retailers. By sourcing healthy food aligned with ethical, fair trade and sustainable principles, the co-operatives in essence, do some of the leg work for us, and do what the big food retailers won’t do – screen our food. Typically, food co-operatives carry a range of local, fresh, organic and bulk products.

Access to healthy, quality, chemical and disease-free food remains one of the most important issues facing our planet. The question is: are big companies who ultimately are answerable to shareholders and profits, equipped to deliver this?

Linda Moon is a freelance writer and natural therapist.

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Posted on March 2, 2015, in ConspiracyOz Posts. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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