Why transparency ?

Transparency in the food chain is an old requirement brought forward by consumers but also by industry which depends on transparency in its own decision processes in logistics and marketing. Management approaches like Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) have transparency as an implicit goal. However, because of their focus on the end of the chain they have missed to integrate the chain and network view as a whole and the need to build transparency on the participation of all actors in the field, consumers, enterprises, institutions, households, and agriculture as the common production base. The global activities of chains and networks and the global sourcing involving agriculture from different countries, continents, and cultural backgrounds have contributed to the transparency challenge.

Transparency builds on appropriate signals which integrate available information and communicate a certain ‘message’ to recipients (e.g. ‘food is safe’). In the selected domain, signals build primarily on information about products, including their composition and characteristics, and on information about processes they were involved in or exposed to. Examples for the generation of information to be useful for signals related to food safety and quality in industry are the participation in monitoring schemes (as e.g. salmonella monitoring schemes) or quality system schemes (as e.g. BRC or IFS certification schemes), examples for consumer related signals involve the ‘food miles’ or the ‘carbon footprint’ retail initiatives.

However, transparency signals are not just those that can be formally communicated or that build on information collected through formal information systems. Cultural background of producers, local customs, or the location of production may provide, if known, strong signals to consumers on the quality of products or the reliability of information. As a consequence, the need for formal transparency signals or their content may differ significantly between regions, cultures, etc.