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Retailers, food sector and regulators debate food information transparency

By Jane Byrne , 21-Mar-2012

A Brussels-based initiative on food information transparency using smart phone technology is gaining momentum with a broad stakeholder forum involving EU regulators, retailers and food manufacturers meeting on key project priorities yesterday.

Herman Koëter, managing director of the Orange House Project,the group behind the Food Information Transparency Initiative (FITI), explained the project is aiming to foster cutting-edge technology to deliver impartial data to shoppers on the traceability or quality of ingredients used in products, for example.

And he emphasised the strong European Commission and EU Parliamentary backing for the initiative.

Indeed, last November saw the official launch of the partnership at an event that involved a presentation from Robert Madelin, former director general of the health and consumer directorate, DG Sanco, and now head of the EC’s directorate on information and media, DG INFSO.

“Tuesday’s forum saw representation from industry associations such as Caobisco, food information labelling council EUFIC, consumer group BEUC, food makers such as Kellogg, the retailer Ahold as well as spokespersons for DG INFSO and the EU Parliament

The meeting included three focused discussions aiming to kick-start consensus from both the public and private sectors on areas like the type of content required, how to achieve consensus on a code of ethics around such issues as child labour and what the initial product focus should be,” Koëter told FoodNavigator.com.

The organizers said the involvement of the Commission as independent observer and watchdog is considered indispensable as it provides assurance that the project outcomes are not in any way in conflict with EU legislation.

Meat or wine sector may lead the way

The meat or wine sector could take up the gauntlet on the initiative, Koëter said, as trade groups in both sectors have expressed considerable interest in the added value information it would allow in terms of sourcing and producer identity.

Food group Kraft, he continued, has also indicated its support for FITI, along with ingredients supplier DSM, Bunge and global standards group, GS1, but he admitted that leading manufacturers Danone, Nestle and Unilever, though involved in initial discussions last year, have opted to back a rival food labelling transparency forum.

Fifty-fifty funding from the private and public sectors is needed to commercialise the project, with €250,000 needed for the first year of the initiative, which will cover the period up until April 2013.

Smart phone app

The project team is aiming to have a free to access smart-phone application in place by spring next year to facilitate delivering of data to consumers as they roam the aisles.

Koëter said that a basic prototype app for scanning of 3D barcodes on food packaging using smart phones was developed in November 2011 by a software firm Orange House had been collaborating with but he stressed that the app still needs a lot of work to ensure it is ready for next April.

“Consumers have told us that want access to reliable information about food products such as why E-numbers are being used in certain foods, if another ingredient was used prior to replacement by a chemical version, how added minerals and vitamins function, and whether ethical standards were adhered to in the production of the product,” Koëter told FoodNavigator.com previously when we first reported on the initiative back in October 2011.

The 25-45 year old age group is the target population segment, he added.

Consumer scanning behavior can be tracked once the smart phone app is in usage, with statistics on particular data choices to inform future decision making as to what content is of most interest, said Koëter, adding that the project team also aims to leverage social media forums to generate informed comment from expert groups.

The next stakeholder meeting on the initiative, he said, will take place in June at an event organised by the European Parliament and hosted by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE). 

 

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