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Consumer demand for traceability

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Consumers have become more discerning in their food consumption choices. Food safety and food quality issues have moved to the forefront of consumer concerns, industry strategies, and in some cases, government policy. A variety of private sector and public policy traceability initiatives have emerged, partly with the objective of reducing consumer information asymmetry with respect to food safety and food quality attributes. This paper examines the role of traceability systems in the food industry and distinguishes between ex post traceback systems and ex ante quality verification systems. Examples of voluntary private sector livestock traceability systems and public sector raceability programs are discussed, including the trade implications of mandatory traceability and labeling. The paper presents preliminary results from experimental auctions measuring consumer willingness-to-pay for traceability, food safety and on-farm production assurances.
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International Agricultural Trade
Research Consortium
Consumer Demand for Traceability
by
Jill E. Hobbs*
Working Paper #03-1
The International Agricultural Trade Research Consortium is an informal association of University and
Government economists interested in agricultural trade. Its purpose is to foster interaction, improve
research capacity and to focus on relevant trade policy issues. It is financed by United States
Department of Agriculture (ERS, and FAS), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the participating
institutions.
The IATRC Working Paper series provides members an opportunity to circulate their work at the
advanced draft stage through limited distribution within the research and analysis community. The
IATRC takes no political positions or responsibility for the accuracy of the data or validity of the
conclusions presented by working paper authors. Further, policy recommendations and opinions
expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of the IATRC or its funding agencies. For a
copy of this paper and a complete list of IATRC Working Papers, books, and other publications, see
the IATRC Web Site http://www.iatrcweb.org
This paper was presented at the IATRC Annual Meeting, December 15-17, 2002, Monterey,
California. The Theme Day focused on “Consumer-Driven Agriculture and Trade.”
*Jill Hobbs is an Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of
Saskatchewan.
Correspondence regarding this paper should be addressed to:
Jill E. Hobbs
Department of Agricultural Economics
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
S7N 5A8 Canada
e-mail: jill.hobbs@usask.ca
April 2003
ISSN 1098-9218
Working Paper 03-1
CONSUMER DEMAND FOR TRACEABILITY
Jill E. Hobbs*
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural Economics
University of Saskatchewan
Prepared for the Theme Day “Consumer Driven Agricultural Trade” at the International
Agricultural Trade Research Consortium Annual Meeting, December 15-17 2002
* Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan, S7N 5A8, Canada. Email: jill.hobbs@usask.ca
CONSUMER DEMAND FOR TRACEABILITY
FOOD SAFETY AND FOOD QUALITY
Consumers have become more discerning in their food consumption choices.
Food safety and food quality issues have moved to the forefront of consumer concerns,
industry strategies, and in some cases, government policy. A variety of private sector and
public policy traceability initiatives have emerged, partly with the objective of reducing
consumer information asymmetry with respect to food safety and food quality attributes.
This paper examines the role of traceability systems in the food industry and
distinguishes between ex post traceback systems and ex ante quality verification systems.
Examples of voluntary private sector livestock traceability systems and public sector
traceability programs are discussed, including the trade implications of mandatory
traceability and labeling. The paper presents preliminary results from experimental
auctions measuring consumer willingness-to-pay for traceability, food safety and on-farm
production assurances.
A series of high profile food safety scares has heightened public awareness and
concerns over food safety, for example the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
crisis in the UK beef industry; in the US, E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks attributed to ground
beef (Jack-in-the-Box; Tyson meats); in Scotland, the deaths of 22 senior citizens linked
to E. coli O157:H7 contaminated meat purchased from a local butchers shop; in Belgium,
the scare created by the contamination of animal feed with potentially cancerous dioxins
in 1999; in Australia, the ‘Garibaldi’ incident in 1995 in which E. coli O157:H7 from a
contaminated meat sausage resulted in several illnesses and the death of a child.
1
Food quality has become more important, particularly the widening dimensions of
‘quality’. This is partly supply driven as a result of technological change and increased
product differentiation possibilities. It is partly demand driven, with increased consumer
interest in a wider array of intrinsic and extrinsic food attributes. Intrinsic quality
attributes include palatability, nutrition, the functional (health) properties of food, etc.
Extrinsic quality attributes include elements of the production environment, such as farm
animal welfare, environmental stewardship, organic food. Many of these are credence
attributes that cannot be detected by consumers without some form of quality signal, such
as a label.
Often the same is true of food safety. Unless severe product deterioration has
occurred, consumers cannot detect food safety hazards through sensory means prior to
purchase. Occasionally food safety can be an experience attribute if a consumer
experiences a food borne illness immediately following consumption of a specific food
item. Usually, food safety has credence attribute properties. Clearly, this was the case for
BSE in the UK beef industry – it was impossible for a consumer to know whether they
had consumed BSE-infected beef immediately after consumption.
Consumers incur information costs in determining whether an experience or
credence attribute may be present. Market failure can arise as a result of information
asymmetry if the market adversely selects lower quality (or unsafe) food in the absence
of information signals to consumers. Grossman (1981) argues that the market has a self-
correcting mechanism if quality disclosure is costless. Sellers of high quality products
have an incentive to disclose quality. Therefore, non-disclosure implies low quality. This
self-correcting mechanism hinges on the ability to (costlessly) verify product quality
2
disclosures ex post. McCluskey (2000) shows that profit-maximizing producers can gain
from deceiving consumers with false quality claims. Repeat-purchase relationships and
third-party monitoring are necessary for efficient markets in high quality credence goods.
Efficient markets in credence goods require credible product quality signals. Traceability
systems facilitate the provision of quality signals to consumers. Yet (as will be argued
below), many of the emerging livestock traceability systems appear ill designed to
provide credible ex ante quality signals to consumers.
PRIVATE SECTOR TRACEABILITY PROGRAMS
Voluntary labeling by firms, sometimes supplemented by third party certification,
can be used to identify credence attributes. If there is a market premium for ‘safer’ food,
there is an incentive for firms producing products with enhanced levels of food safety to
identify this attribute in a label. Irradiated meat products in the US are a good example.
A credible monitoring and enforcement mechanism is necessary to reduce the risk of
cheating through mislabeling. A self-policing industry quality assurance or safety
labeling program could be effective if those firms producing ‘high quality’ (or
demonstrably safer) food are able to censure those firms who free-ride on the certification
program through false or misleading labeling. In the absence of an effective self-policing
mechanism the market failure problem persists for products with negative quality or
safety attributes. A firm will not voluntarily disclose low quality.
Private sector traceability initiatives in the livestock sector include individual
supply chain initiatives and industry-wide programs. Supply chain partnerships
delivering traceability have emerged in the UK beef industry, largely as a result of the
3
loss in consumer confidence following the BSE crisis. One example is Tracesafe, a small
farmer-owned company that has developed a network of cattle breeders and finishers who
rear cattle to specific production guidelines. The production protocols specify the
purchase of feed from a set of contracted feed mills and include an extensive system of
on-farm record keeping. Tracesafe differentiates its beef on the basis of its ability to
trace the history of individual meat cuts to the animal of origin, with an implied safety
assurance. The beef is sold in specialist retail outlets and restaurants under the Tracesafe
brand name (Fearne, 1998).
The meat processing sector has also recognized the potential role of traceability in
bolstering consumer confidence in food safety, and as a product differentiation strategy.
Michael McCain, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (a major Canadian pork
and poultry processor) recently referred to traceability as the “holy grail of the food
supply chain”. Maple Leaf is currently funding the development of DNA identification
technology to facilitate the traceback of meat to the farm of origin (Powell, 2002).
Pressure from export markets, particularly the Japanese market, appears to be a
significant driver for this development.
In other cases, private sector traceability initiatives are a result of pressure from
downstream food retailers. A desire to reduce risk exposure or reduce the transaction
costs of monitoring product quality or downstream production methods are the
motivators. This does not necessarily mean that traceability information is made available
to consumers on retail packages. UK supermarkets require their beef suppliers to be
members of accredited quality assurance programs, although the meat may not be
traceable to the specific farm of origin. The Canadian retailer Sobeys requires its
4
suppliers to demonstrate that specific production, processing, transport and handling
processes have been implemented. While traceability back to the farm may not be an
explicit requirement, it can be a necessary condition for providing information on
production and processing methods (Hobbs, 1996; Fearne, 1998; Bredahl et al. 2001).
Industry-wide private sector traceability programs have also been introduced by
industry associations or producer groups. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association
established the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA). In July 2002, the CCIA
implemented a national cattle identification system to facilitate the traceback of cattle in
the event of a food safety problem. The industry initiated CCIA as a risk reduction
strategy. Prior to the introduction of the traceback system, the identification and tracing
of animals in the event of a major crisis on the scale of BSE would have been virtually
impossible.
Cattle leaving the herd of origin are issued a unique ID number displayed on a
CCIA tag with a barcode. Tags are distributed by authorized service centers that record
which ID numbers are allocated to which producers. The unique ID number is maintained
to the point of carcass inspection in the packing plant. Monetary penalties for non-
compliance can be imposed on producers. In the event of a food safety problem, the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) (a Federal government agency) initiates a
traceback procedure. CFIA uses information from the CCIA database to identify the last
location of the animal and the herd of origin (CCIA, 2002). This information is used to
track cattle movements both backwards and forwards in the supply chain. Producers are
not required to maintain records. In this regard the Canadian system is quite different
from the ‘cattle passport’ system in the UK. The UK system requires producers to
5
register all cattle movements on or off a farm with the national identification agency. In
the UK system the unique animal ID number should allow immediate identification of all
farms on which the cattle have been located. The Canadian system only allows
identification of the herd of origin and the final location of the cattle, with traceback
beyond those two points relying on the ability of producers to provide this information.
The Australian beef industry has a voluntary quality assurance system that
includes a national identification program including DNA sampling for traceback. The
Australian system is an industry-government partnership in the sense that the system is
led by a government agency, the Meat and Livestock Agency (MLA). A series of quality
management protocols covering production, handling and processing were developed
under the umbrella of “Cattle Care”. A producer selling cattle signs a National Vendor
Declaration form that identifies the seller and provides basic production information (e.g.
whether the cattle were treated with a growth-promoting hormone; information about the
feeding program, etc). This information, combined with a cattle tag, enables the
traceback of cattle in the event of a problem (Lawrence, 2002).
A voluntary grading system, Meat Standards Australia (MSA), uses a series of pre
and post-slaughter measures to predict the eating quality of meat. Blood samples are
taken from each carcass that qualifies for the MSA program while the carcass can still be
identified with a seller. If a consumer complains of a bad eating experience from MSA-
graded meat, a DNA sample from the meat and can be matched with the blood sample
from the carcass. In this way, meat cuts can be traced through the supply chain and to the
farm of origin. The traceback in the MSA system is focused primarily on quality rather
than just food safety. It allows a direct link to be made between eating quality and
6
production and processing methods. It can assist in identifying where improvements may
be necessary or in identifying sellers who consistently misrepresent cattle on their
National Vendor Declaration form (Lawrence, 2002).
The Australian systems of identification and quality assurance are voluntary.
They establish the information infrastructure onto which individual supply chains can
bolt on their own quality branded beef programs. There are several examples of
Australian branded beef programs that use the MSA system as part of a product
differentiation strategy (Lawrence, 2002).
REGULATORY TRACEABILITY & LABELING PROGRAMS
Mandatory traceability and labeling initiatives have been introduced in some
countries. The European Union (EU) has a beef labeling regulation that requires all
Member States to have in place compulsory beef labeling and traceability systems by
2003. There are three components to the regulation. First, each Member State will have a
national cattle identification and registration system. Second, beef products will be
labeled with a traceability number identifying origin, including where the animals from
which the meat was derived were born, reared, slaughtered and processed. Third, the
regulation introduces rules for voluntary labeling with additional information (for
example, production information, animal welfare information, etc.).
The 2002 US Farm Bill introduced retail-level country of origin labeling for beef,
lamb, pork, fish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and peanuts. In the interim this is
voluntary but a mandatory regulation will be established by September 30 2004. To
receive a US country of origin designation livestock must be born, raised and slaughtered
7
in the United States. Mandatory country of origin labeling has major ramifications for
the traceability, record keeping and information systems that will be required in order to
substantiate the ‘born, reared and slaughtered’ claim for any meat products.
These examples have shown that there are numerous examples of private and
public sector initiatives, offering various degrees of traceability and quality assurances
with respect to credence attributes. A valid question, therefore, is the extent to which
traceability and origin labeling should be a private or public sector responsibility? This
depends on whether there is market failure, and if so, whether the benefits to consumers
of mandating traceability and/or labeling outweigh the costs. To help assess these
questions, it is useful to consider the functions and potential economic benefits of a
traceability system.
WHAT DO WE REALLY MEAN BY ‘TRACEABILITY’?
There are three main functions of a livestock traceability system. The first is to
facilitate the traceback of products or animals in the event of a food safety problem.
Effective traceback enables the scope of a food borne illness to be contained, thereby
minimizing private and public costs, e.g. pain and suffering, lost productivity, medical
costs, damage to a firm or industry’s reputation, liability costs, etc. By identifying and
isolating the source of contamination, a traceability system can protect firms who practice
due diligence from free riders who fail to invest in good production practices or
preventative measures. A traceability system allows ex post cost reduction after a
problem has arisen. It performs a reactive function. Most livestock traceability programs,
for example the Canadian cattle identification system, perform this reactive function.
8
The second function of a traceability system is to enhance the effectiveness of tort
liability law as an incentive for firms to produce safe food. The threat of civil legal
action and the resulting financial damages and damage to brand name capital provide the
incentive. To the extent that industry-wide traceability systems can facilitate the
establishment of legal liability, the incentive for firms to adopt measures that enhance
food safety is strengthened. In this sense, traceability systems also perform an ex post
information function.
The third function of a traceability system is pre-purchase quality verification to
reduce information costs for consumers through labeling the presence of credence
attributes. This is an ex ante information function requiring proactive information
provision and quality verification. The EU and Canadian livestock identification and
traceability systems facilitate ex post traceback in the event of a problem. They do not
provide ex ante provision of information on product attributes to reduce consumer
information asymmetry. However, the frequent justification for introducing mandatory
traceability and labeling, such as the EU beef labeling regulation, is the provision of
useful information to consumers that the market would otherwise fail to provide.
Several EU Member States have already implemented beef labeling regulation.
Initial experiences suggest that this is indeed an ex post, reactive labeling system rather
than an ex ante information system that would reduce consumer information asymmetry
with respect to important credence attributes.
Other Member States report that their consumers, even when well
informed, have not notably changed their patterns of consumption of beef
(Commission of the European Communities, 1999, p.7)
9
The question “What do consumers really want?” lies at the heart of this issue. In
other words, is traceability information useful to consumers? If so, is the absence of
traceability information an indication of market failure and therefore a justification for
mandatory traceability and labeling programs to correct the market failure? Or can
voluntary traceability labels be a useful product differentiation strategy for individual
firms or supply chain alliances? Before we can begin to answer these questions, we need
a better understanding of consumer responses to traceability and quality verification
information.
ARE CONSUMERS WILLING TO PAY FOR TRACEABILITY?
A set of research experiments assessing Canadian consumers’ willingness-to-pay
(WTP) for traceability, food safety and on-farm production information for beef and ham
products were carried out in 20021. Laboratory (experimental) auction markets involving
consumers in western and eastern Canada were used to collect bids on meat
characteristics. Experimental auctions are a method of eliciting non-hypothetical bid data
in the absence of publicly available market data on the demand for traceability and
quality verification characteristics.
Following Shogren et al (1994), participants were given a beef (or ham) sandwich
containing standard store-bought beef (ham) and had the opportunity to ‘upgrade’ their
sandwich for a sandwich with additional verifiable characteristics. A sum of Cdn$20 was
provided as an incentive for attending the session. Four ‘auction’ sandwiches were used,
1 This research was conducted in collaboration with researchers from Utah State University who were
conducting experiments in the US, the UK, Japan and Canada (Dickinson and Bailey, 2002). Additional
Canadian data collection was funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
10
each with different verifiable information. The meat in one sandwich had an extra
assurance with respect to humane animal treatment. The second sandwich had an extra
assurance regarding food safety standards or procedures that were over and above the
industry norm. The third sandwich contained meat that was traceable to the farm of
origin. The fourth sandwich combined all three characteristics: the meat was traceable to
the farm of origin, with an extra assurance of humane animal treatment and an extra
assurance of food safety standards/procedures2.
The experiment consisted of ten rounds of bidding for each sandwich. Bids were
collected for sandwich 1 (humane animal treatment), then sandwich 2 (food safety), then
sandwich 3 (traceability), then sandwich 4 (all 3 characteristics). This process was
repeated ten times. Participants wrote down their bids, so that individual bid information
was private. At the beginning of each round of bidding for each sandwich, the second
highest bid (or ‘market price’) from the previous round was announced. At the end of the
10th round, a random draw determined which of the simultaneous sandwich auctions
would be binding. Another random draw determined which of the 10 rounds of bidding
was binding. The highest bidder in that round for that sandwich exchanged their
sandwich for the auction sandwich and paid the second highest bid price. Only one
sandwich was auctioned off in each experiment. There was an equal chance that any of
the rounds of bidding would be binding; thus participants had an incentive to bid honestly
each time.
2 It was explained to participants that there was nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with the sandwich they had
been given. It was simply regular meat purchased in a regular store and therefore met all the requisite food
safety standards. Instead there was additional verifiable information about each of the auction sandwiches.
No deceit was used. The additional information was truthful.
11
Conducting multiple rounds of bidding and announcing the ‘market price’ allows
for bid stabilization over the ten rounds and provides a corrective mechanism to assist
participants in understanding the experiment (Shogren et al., 1994; Dickenson and
Bailey, 2002). The fact that participants were asked to eat their sandwich before leaving
the room and the exchange of money by the highest bidder in the randomly selected
round is intended to encourage honest bidding.
The experiments were conducted in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Guelph,
Ontario in March and September 2002 respectively. Subjects in Saskatoon were
recruited from a range of demographic groups at the University of Saskatchewan,
including students, faculty, professional administrative staff and maintenance staff.
Subjects in Guelph were recruited from the consumer database of a private consumer
research firm. A total of 204 people participated in the study, 98 in Ontario and 106 in
Saskatchewan, with 104 participating in the beef auctions and 100 in the pork auctions.
Analysis of the results is ongoing. A preliminary assessment reveals some
interesting trends. Figures 1 and 2 display average bid information for the beef and pork
experiments respectively over the ten rounds of bidding. Marginal bid information (i.e.
the amounts on average that were bid to exchange the current sandwich for an auction
sandwich) is presented as a percentage of the base sandwich value of Cdn$2.82 for the
beef sandwich and Cdn$2.85 for the ham sandwich3. Traceability to the farm of origin,
without additional quality assurances, elicited the lowest average willingness to pay. An
ex ante quality verification such as an additional food safety assurance or an animal
welfare assurance was of more value to the participants. Combining a traceability
3 The base sandwich value was calculated by asking respondents how much they would typically expect to
pay for the type of sandwich provided to them in the experiment, and averaging these responses.
12
guarantee with positive quality assurances yielded the highest bids on average, although
the average bid for the ‘all inclusive’ sandwich was less than the sum of bids for the
individual attributes, suggesting a decreasing marginal willingness to pay for the
attributes. This is consistent with results from an equivalent WTP study in the US
(Dickenson and Bailey, 2002).
Figure 1: Average WTP Bids - Beef
N=104
(Base Sandwich value = Cdn$2.82)
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
12345678910
Bidding Rounds
Marginal bids as %
of base sandwich
value
animal treatment food safety
traceability all attributes
13
Figure 2: Average WTP Bids - Pork
N=100
(Base sandwich value = Cdn$2.85)
0%
5%
10%
15%
20%
25%
30%
35%
40%
45%
12345678910
Bidding Rounds
Marginal Bid as % of base sandwich
value
animal treatment food safety traceability all attributes
Average WTP (averaged across all subjects for the last 5 bidding rounds in both
locations) to upgrade to a traceable beef sandwich was Cdn$0.20 (7%). Average WTP to
add a food safety assurance was Cdn$0.56 (20%), to add an animal welfare assurance
was Cdn$0.50 (17.6%) and to add all 3 assurances was Cdn$1.12 (40%)4. For the ham
sandwiches, average bids were Cdn$0.28 (10%) for traceability, Cdn$0.47 (17%) for
food safety, Cdn$0.44 (15.6%) for animal welfare and Cdn$0.93 (33.4%) for all three
assurances5.
14
4 This compares with US$0.23 (7.6%), US$0.63 (21%), US$0.50 (16.7%)and US$1.06 (35%) respectively
in a similar US experiment where the base sandwich value was approximately US$3 (Dickinson and
Bailey, 2002).
5 In US experiments using ham sandwiches, Dickenson and Bailey (2002) report average bids of US$0.50,
US$0.59, US$0.53 and US$1.14 (or 16.67%, 17.6%, 19.7% and 38%) for traceability, food safety, animal
welfare and all three assurances respectively. The base sandwich was valued at approximately US$3.
It should be emphasized that these are average values and mask considerable
variations in bids across participants. For example, there were a high number of zero
bids for the ‘traceability only’ sandwich. Furthermore, due to the nature of a one or two
day experiment, these bids are usually considered to be an upper bound on WTP
(Dickinson and Bailey, 2002; Hayes et al, 1995). Finally, caution should be exercised in
extrapolating these numbers into other contexts. While the data may suggest a 10%
average WTP for traceability information or a 33% average WTP for the addition of the
three assurances for a ham sandwich, these percentages cannot be extrapolated across an
entire consumer budget. That is, the results should not be used to claim that Canadian
consumers would be willing to pay 10% or 33% more for all food products with these
assurances. Budget constraints typically limit WTP. Also, WTP for an additional food
safety assurance may differ among products depending on consumers’ risk perceptions
regarding those products.
The key point to take from this preliminary analysis is that traceability, by itself,
may not deliver much value to most consumers6. In essence, consumers want to know
their food is safe before they consume it. Quality assurances with respect to specific
credence attributes, bundled with traceability, have more appeal. While ex post reactive
traceability systems perform an important economic function in limiting the costs from a
food safety problem and in maintaining consumer confidence in an industry, they do little
to reduce consumer information asymmetry. It is important to distinguish between the
different functions of a traceability system and to recognize the extent to which the
traceability systems being put in place by industry or mandated by policy can deliver on
one or all of the objectives: limiting the ex post costs of a food safety problem;
15
strengthening liability incentives; and ex ante provision of information to consumers.
Traceability may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for ex ante verification of
quality attributes.
Also of interest is the credibility of different information sources about credence
attributes such as origin, food safety or on-farm production practices. The debate around
traceability and labeling systems includes questions over who should be responsible for
sanctioning credible information provision to consumers. Is it the role of industry
associations or the role of individual firms or supply chains, or is there a market failure
indicating that it could be the role of government? The Canadian consumer research also
asked participants to indicate which sources they most trusted and least trusted to provide
information about production practices from a list of seven potential sources. Figure 3
displays the responses to this question.
Almost 50 percent of respondents said they would most trust a Federal
government agency, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to provide this
information. Another quarter of respondents placed most trust in an independent quality
assurance firm. Respondent comments revealed that the Federal government (CFIA)
tended to be trusted because it was seen to be working in the public interest.
6 Although clearly it is of some value to some consumers, given the non-negative average bids.
16
Figure 3: Credibility of Information Sources About
Production Practices (N=204)
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
Fed. Govt
Prov. Govt
Ind. Assoc.
Processor
Retailer
Welfare/Enviro Group
Indept. QA Firm
Not Trust Any
Other
% of Responses
Most Trusted Least Trusted
Almost one third of the participants indicated that animal welfare or
environmental groups (such as Greenpeace or PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals) were the least trusted. Several people commented that they felt these sources
had an agenda, and were therefore not seen as objective or trustworthy. Interestingly
food processors and retailers were regarded as the least trusted source of information by
25% and 23% of respondents respectively. Comments revealed that some people felt
these sources had a vested commercial interest that gave them an incentive to mislead
consumers. This points to a potential credibility problem for industry sources in
providing traceability and quality assurances to consumers. A potential solution to this
credibility problem is the Australian model, whereby individual branding and product
differentiation can be bolted onto the national identification and quality standards
programs developed jointly by industry and government.
17
Although an entity (e.g. industry, government or interest group) may not be
considered a reliable or trustworthy source of information, the information it disseminates
can still influence consumer perceptions if the message is not closely associated with the
source. For example, “I read it somewhere”, “I heard that …”, etc. Thus, the ‘least
trusted’ sources in Figure 3 may still have an indirect impact on consumer perceptions.
TRADE IMPLICATIONS
Consumer interest in food safety and food quality have precipitated an increased
focus on traceability and quality assurances, including retail labeling of product origin
and/or production methods. In many cases, these are private industry responses to
product differentiation opportunities. Or they may be private sector strategies to reduce
risk exposure and maintain consumer confidence. Regulatory moves to mandate
traceability, origin or production method labeling create problems in the international
trade arena. Mandatory labeling of credence attributes has been justified on the basis of
consumers’ “right to know”, for example, genetically modified foods, country of origin
labeling.
The labeling of production and processing methods (PPM) poses particular
challenges to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) system. The principle of Non-
Discrimination is based on three concepts. It requires that ‘like’ goods be given the same
treatment – the WTO rules deal with goods, not PPMs because it is goods that are traded.
It requires that foreign like goods are given the same ‘national treatment’ as domestic
goods and that all foreign like goods of member countries are granted equal market
access. The challenge arises when domestic concerns request regulations on PPMs that
18
violate one of the three bases of non-discrimination. For example if PPMs differ across
countries, a domestic regulation may favor domestic producers or violate the most-
favored nation principle (Isaac and Kerr, 2002). Mandatory traceability and labeling
regulations or country of origin labeling regulations may be challenged at the WTO on
the basis that they violate WTO rules on allowable labels and inhibit trade.
The WTO response to the debate around trade barriers related to PPMs has been
to permit ‘legitimate’ violations of the principle of Non-Discrimination. In a negotiated
compromise, the Tokyo round of GATT negotiations resulted in PPMs being divided into
product-related PPMs and non-product related PPMs. Safety-related trade barriers are
dealt with under the Agreement on Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Measures (SPS).
Product-related PPM trade barriers are dealt with under the Agreement on Technical
Barriers to Trade (TBT). A trade barrier based on PPMs may be permissible under the
TBT agreement if the PPM creates a novel product, such that the ‘like’ products
designation no longer applies. However, the National Treatment and Most-Favored
Nation principles still pertain. Non-product related PPMs are out of scope of the TBT
agreement. There is no permissible use of TBT measures to ban trade based on non-
product related PPMs, such as the use of intensive agricultural production methods rather
than an organic system to produce the cotton used to make a shirt (Isaac and Kerr, 2002).
Mandatory labeling policies based on consumers’ right-to-know contravene WTO
rules if a non-product related attribute is being labeled and the labeling policy violates
one of the three cornerstones of non-discrimination. For example, mandatory labeling of
GM food based on consumers’ right-to-know about a processing technique or a
technology (rather than a claim that the product was novel or an objection on the basis of
19
safety) would contravene WTO rules (Isaac and Kerr, 2002). It could also be argued that
mandatory labeling of traceability information and/or product origin on the basis of
consumers’ right to know would also be in contravention of WTO rules if the Non-
Discrimination principle is violated.
Proponents of mandatory country of origin labeling in the US argue that it
enshrines in law consumers’ right to know about the origin of products. Opponents argue
that a mandatory regulation panders to the domestic protectionist interests of producers. It
imposes unnecessary costs on the food industry and will adversely affect (e.g. livestock)
exports from other countries, particularly as US processors will be required to provide
proportional country of origin content on food labels. Voluntary labeling of “US origin”
would suffice to inform consumers if there is a strong demand for domestically produced
food. Since the country of origin does not alter the product (beef is beef), the Non-
Discrimination principle is violated by a mandatory country of origin labeling
requirement since it attempts to differentiate like products through labeling.
At the heart of this issue is the fact that the WTO was not set up to handle
consumer demand for protection or regulation of imports. In the simple neoclassical
view of the world with perfect information, consumers always win from trade
liberalization as a result of lower prices and more choice. Once we allow for information
asymmetry with respect to credence attributes (on-farm production methods, country of
origin, etc.) and uncertainty over food safety, it is conceivable that some consumers could
demand protection from imports or tighter labeling regulations (e.g. GM food). The EU
has stated its desire to renegotiate WTO rules to allow trade restrictions based on
consumer preferences. The challenge lies in distinguishing between measures taken in
20
response to legitimate consumer concerns and trade restricting measures driven by vested
producer interests in the guise of ‘consumer interests’.
A first step toward making this distinction is in a better understanding of
consumer attitudes to food safety and food quality issues. This includes an understanding
of how consumers respond to different traceability, labeling and quality assurance
initiatives. Of immediate interest is the extent to which these initiatives belong in the
private sector as innovative product differentiation strategies, or the extent to which a
convincing market failure argument can be made for mandating traceability and labeling
on the basis of reducing consumer information asymmetry.
It appears that the EU mandatory beef labeling and traceability regulation, while
perhaps performing a useful ex post cost reduction function in the event of a food safety
problem, does little to reduce consumer information asymmetry ex ante. The new US
requirements for the mandatory provision of country of origin information at the retail
level will not provide consumers with information about other credence attributes beyond
the country of origin. Mandatory labeling policies create the potential for international
trade tensions when they adversely affect exports.
On the other hand, industry-driven traceability systems have emerged (often with
the encouragement and support of government). In these cases, the private sector is
responding to the need to reduce the potential costs of a food safety outbreak, to reduce
the monitoring and enforcement costs associated with managing supply chain
relationships, to maintain consumer confidence, or has recognized a product
differentiation opportunity. Often the traceability system is a platform on which
additional quality assurances can be provided to consumers. Traceability and ex ante
21
quality verification throughout the supply chain may yield sufficient economic benefits
without the need to extend traceability labeling to the retail counter.
Mandatory retail labeling of traceability and product origin information is likely
to impose significant economic costs on industry, and will lead to international trade
tensions, without an obvious demonstration of direct consumer benefits. This does not
mean that traceability is unimportant. On the contrary, it can play a central role in
reducing the transaction costs of managing supply chain relationships, in reducing risk
and in strengthening tort liability incentives for food safety. Thus, it is important to
distinguish between the various function of a traceability/quality verification system, and
to recognize the extent to which it plays a supply chain management role or a role in
informing consumers. This paper provides a preliminary analysis of traceability systems
and the potential value placed on traceability information versus specific quality
assurances by Canadian consumers. Further research is necessary to both deepen and
broaden our understanding of these issues within an international context.
22
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Chapter
This chapter aims to explore the feasibility of using blockchain in the beef supply chain to reduce waste. A mono-method, qualitative, inductive, single case study approach was taken on a cross-sectional scale from June 2018 to August 2018, with two individuals interviewed: a beef and a blockchain expert. The case study also involved observations, a field visit, and other secondary source data. Beef is a high demand, valuable food product with a limited shelf life. By using blockchain in conjunction with RFID and sensor technologies, farming and processing stages in the beef supply chain can be streamlined. Firstly, using the technology to monitor the animals on the farm and during transportation can reduce the amount of water and energy wasted. Secondly, blockchain can be used to establish exactly when and where the meat is cut and packaged, improving the accuracy of information between supply chain entities, resulting in improved inventory management, specifically more accurate delivery times and lengthened product shelf lives.
Chapter
This chapter aims to explore the feasibility of using blockchain in the beef supply chain to reduce waste. A mono-method, qualitative, inductive, single case study approach was taken on a cross-sectional scale from June 2018 to August 2018, with two individuals interviewed: a beef and a blockchain expert. The case study also involved observations, a field visit, and other secondary source data. Beef is a high demand, valuable food product with a limited shelf life. By using blockchain in conjunction with RFID and sensor technologies, farming and processing stages in the beef supply chain can be streamlined. Firstly, using the technology to monitor the animals on the farm and during transportation can reduce the amount of water and energy wasted. Secondly, blockchain can be used to establish exactly when and where the meat is cut and packaged, improving the accuracy of information between supply chain entities, resulting in improved inventory management, specifically more accurate delivery times and lengthened product shelf lives.
Chapter
This chapter aims to explore the feasibility of using blockchain in the beef supply chain to reduce waste. A mono-method, qualitative, inductive, single case study approach was taken on a cross-sectional scale from June 2018 to August 2018, with two individuals interviewed: a beef and a blockchain expert. The case study also involved observations, a field visit, and other secondary source data. Beef is a high demand, valuable food product with a limited shelf life. By using blockchain in conjunction with RFID and sensor technologies, farming and processing stages in the beef supply chain can be streamlined. Firstly, using the technology to monitor the animals on the farm and during transportation can reduce the amount of water and energy wasted. Secondly, blockchain can be used to establish exactly when and where the meat is cut and packaged, improving the accuracy of information between supply chain entities, resulting in improved inventory management, specifically more accurate delivery times and lengthened product shelf lives.
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