Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Like organic foods, local food movements in some of the western countries have gained acceptance by a significant segment of the consumer because of the perceived feeling that they are safer, more nutritious and environment friendly. While organic foods got really established across the world with their own standards, quality vigilance and international protocols, local foods can be confirmed only by tracing the sources from where they have come. Most of the big retail food chains are the losers because local foods made available in the farmers' markets are much more in demand than the products offered by the former which are sourced from hundreds of kilometers away with practically nothing known about their credentials. Of course with traceability law in place consumer has a much better chance of knowing the history of the produce bought from a retail chain. If a recent report from the UK is to be believed one in three dealers offering local foods are of suspect credentials and here is a take on that situation.

"Council food enforcement officers visited over 300 premises across England and Wales because of the increasing consumer interest in buying `local'. They visited both point of sale and manufacturing facilities. In total, 558 products (65 per cent from restaurants, 23 per cent from retail shops and 12 per cent from manufacturers and other) labelled as `local' were investigated. Full inspections revealed that at least 18 per cent of the claims were undoubtedly false with a further 14 per cent unable to be confirmed and therefore assumed false. These false claims were found at similar levels across all food sectors with almost one in five restaurant descriptions misleading customers. Meat and dairy products were frequently misleading with 50 per cent of poultry, 29 per cent of sausages, 27 per cent of both beef and lamb and 24 per cent of dairy products all completely false. Chairman of Local Government Regulation councillor Paul Bettison said: "To have around a third of all items investigated turn out to be false or potentially false is extremely worrying. "At present there is no widely agreed definition of the term `local' and it isn't acceptable. Everyone should be operating in a fair environment and following the same rules. Defra and the food industry must agree the definition of `local'."

According to one report even some of the retail chains in the US are resorting to malpractices, setting up local food section in their premises but stocked with materials sourced through their regular supply chain which amounts to cheating the consumer. As there are no established methodology to distinguish between local and those sourced from distant places, sufficient scope exists for fraudulent operators to make a fast buck through this easy route. Until clear cut guidelines are established for defining any food as local, consumer is left at the mercy of the dealers in providing local foods, many of them unable to resist the opportunity to cheat the unsuspecting consumer. A rigorous vigilance system must be in place for bringing to books such fraudsters which may provide the necessary deterrent.


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