How far could ‘smarter food systems’ take the world?

Articles
December 11, 2008

How far could ‘smarter food systems’ take the world?

After all the dumb things mankind has done to hurt the planet, cause species to go extinct, poison people and our natural resources, and advance global warming, we’re being told now we’re not all bad. The essence of IBM’s new Smarter Planet initiative is that (man-made) interconnected technologies are changing the way the world works. The company is referring to systems and processes that enable: physical goods to be developed, made, bought and sold; services to be delivered, everything (people, money, oil, water) to move; and more. One outcome, the company contends, is smarter global food systems, which it discusses in an ad appearing in major media such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. It is one of a series of Smarter Planet ads. IBM is also about to issue findings of its international consumer study on food-safety concerns. IBM’s thought-leadership message on food safety first depicts how countries the U.S. relies on for food supply lack consistent standards of quality, processes and accountability. Inefficiencies in food scarcity, safety, sustainability and cost then lead to opportunities for a smarter global food system. “In the U.S. alone, 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur each year. Imports account for nearly 60% of the fruits and vegetables we consume, and 75% of the seafood. Yet only 1% of those foods are inspected before they cross our shores,” the ad states.

After all the dumb things mankind has done to hurt the planet, cause species to go extinct, poison people and our natural resources, and advance global warming, we’re being told now we’re not all bad.

The essence of IBM’s new Smarter Planet initiative is that (man-made) interconnected technologies are changing the way the world works. The company is referring to systems and processes that enable: physical goods to be developed, made, bought and sold; services to be delivered, everything (people, money, oil, water) to move; and more.

One outcome, the company contends, is smarter global food systems, which it discusses in an ad appearing in major media such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. It is one of a series of Smarter Planet ads. IBM is also about to issue findings of its international consumer study on food-safety concerns.

IBM’s thought-leadership message on food safety first depicts how countries the U.S. relies on for food supply lack consistent standards of quality, processes and accountability. Inefficiencies in food scarcity, safety, sustainability and cost then lead to opportunities for a smarter global food system. “In the U.S. alone, 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur each year. Imports account for nearly 60% of the fruits and vegetables we consume, and 75% of the seafood. Yet only 1% of those foods are inspected before they cross our shores,” the ad states.

“Fortunately, a smarter global food system—one that is more connected, instrumented and intelligent—is at hand. For example, IBM is helping Norway’s largest food supplier use RFID technology to trace meat and poultry from the farm through the supply chain to the store shelf,” it adds as one example.

The company’s survey findings urge that Full Value Traceability of ingredients, packaging and products through all stages of production, processing and distribution will be transparent and earn consumer trust of brands.  The study, which grew out of notorious product contaminations and food recalls in China, found that:
•    84% of Chinese consumers are more concerned about food safety than two years ago. (This compares with 50% of U.S. consumers and 47% of U.K. consumers in a recent separate study by IBM.)
•    65% of Chinese consumers don’t trust the manufacturer, and 59% don’t trust the retailer. (Compared with 39% of U.S. and U.K. consumers who don’t trust manufacturers, and 25% who are wary of retailers.)
•    65% of Chinese consumers (and 68% of U.S. and U.K. consumers) want to know more about product sources and background.

Given the serious consequences of recent food disasters, SupermarketGuru.com would be surprised if these survey findings weren’t at least this high. While IBM’s work to connect the dots on food supplies and food safety is commendable, it is also about time that global resources be marshaled toward this cause. In a world where billions of people desperately need good food to survive, making sure the supply chain we have in place is secure and trustworthy is an essential first step to providing for the world at large.