A new era of transparency for consumers

A new era of transparency for consumers

Is the age of “mystery-meat” behind us?

Not entirely, as evidenced by Taco Bell’s recent, embarrassing class-action lawsuit questioning whether its taco filling really qualifies as “beef.”

But despite such occasional troubling headlines, the big-picture reality is this: Enormous strides are being taken to make the story behind products more transparent to consumers.

Case in point: On Feb. 2, Whole Foods Market unveiled an ambitious new 5-step Animal Welfare Rating System, which will give shoppers unprecedented insight into how an animal was treated on its way to the refrigerator case. (Yes. It’s more humane to go vegan, but it gives us carnivores some solace to know the animal wasn’t raised in a cage). The color-coded system, developed by the nonprofit Global Animal Partnership, labels meat from Step 1 (no crates, or crowding) to Step 5+ (lived entire life on the same farm) . Thus far, third-party certifiers have rated 140 million animals from 1,200 operations, and GAP hopes to see other retailers roll out similar programs.

Six months earlier, Whole Foods launched a sustainability rating program for wild-caught seafood (green means the species is abundant; yellow means concerns exist; red means it is overfished), and vowed to phase out “red” species by 2013.

Some have suggested that only wealthy “Whole Paycheck” consumers are benefitting from (and paying top dollar for) greater transparency.

Not so.

In 2009, Walmart launched its own Sustainability Product Index program, vowing to evaluate the lifecycle (including water, energy, and pesticide use) of all its products and – within five years – unveil a consumer label to alert consumers of the rankings.

Meanwhile, depending on the fate of Obamacare, certain chain restaurants may soon be required to put calorie-counts and other nutritional info on their menus.

And many smaller companies have begun to take a hard look at their own practices (from carbon emissions to waste produced to animal treatment) and invite consumers to take a look and comment.

(Want to know exactly how much energy it took to create a six-pack of Fat Tire Beer? Log on to New Belgium Brewery’s website.)

As one Walmart exec recently put it “transparency encourages efficiency, innovation, and the optimization of resources,” throughout the supply chain.

Even better, it empowers consumers – as long as we’re paying attention.

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