An article in the New Food magazine reminded us that, if and when we can provide information related to the GHG emissions of the product inside the package, we also need to be conscious of the need for the public to understand the environmental footprint of the package and of the labels themselves. Consumers occur throughout supply chains so input suppliers need to ensure their consumers (farmers, for example) have the environmental impact information to add to the data they provide their own buyers to ensure the information is comprehensive.
The example in the article is labels related to animal-feed additives. One thing the article makes clear is that adding labels to inputs and products along the supply chain can be critical to purchasers making environmentally-sensitive decisions—but the labels can also create significant waste themselves. When asked in 2016 and again in 2022, 50% of Canadians wanted environmental footprint labelling on all meat and dairy products. The consistency and magnitude suggest that the demand for information is strong, unlikely to go anywhere and that suppliers satisfying it are likely to be well received in the marketplace.
Environmental footprint labeling by product may be different than the environmental status of a company in the eyes of a consumer. The company approach to environmental sustainability is important in generating the trust consumers feel in the products they buy from the company but it cannot completely satisfy the demand for information to influence individual product selection at the point of purchase.
What does this trend imply for livestock genomics? Consumers looking for more information on the products they purchase do not want to see their information demand result in more waste per product than they had before. Thus, including the information required on inputs in an environmentally friendly approach to labeling could be a very good thing in the eyes of the consumer. At the same time, it could increase the information flow on production practices of interest all the way to the final consumer.
Can genomics help us reduce the environmental footprint from tracking and labeling inputs, livestock production practices, and final consumer-ready product preparation? Livestock genomics in combination with other tools such as blockchain could enhance information accessibility while not requiring as many more environmentally wasteful labels at different points in the livestock supply chain. In the New Food article, the author refers to Neogen which has partnered with Ripe Technology to improve the connection between livestock genomics, feed use and food safety. The company uses blockchain technology on labels to support value-added claims on production labels. Blockchain integrated into labels will help meat producers understand the safety quotient of the feed ingredient before the animals are converted into meat products. The label will convey the entire lifecycle of the meat from birth to slaughterhouse, and whether it has received antibiotics. This will provide meat food manufacturers with information regarding the nutritional quality of the animal feed.
This intriguing use of combined technology will allow a significant amount of information per animal to be collected and be available to final consumers without increasing the footprint of the labeling requirements associated with full information flows at every stage of livestock production. In addition, industry is developing new forms of labels (when labels are necessary) that are more environmentally friendly; for example, linerless labels. The combination of adding blockchain to labels and reducing the footprint of labels could be a boon to the significant demand for environmental footprint information by consumers. The fact that this information could be linked to individual animals through genomics will increase the trust consumers feel in the products, companies and processes used in the livestock products they purchase. These innovative uses of technology will be viewed positively by consumers eager for eve- increasing information on all aspects of the environmental footprint of the final foods they buy.
In a similar vein, a Gentec research project focused on estimating the number of animals in industrial-scale ground beef to map meat products and trace the finished product during a food safety recall.
Professor, University of Alberta