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Responsible Sourcing Redefined

Originally published on Meatingplace.

“Responsible sourcing” used to mean safe and on time in the food universe. Fast forward to today and the heightened public awareness of all things food has broadened the definition of responsible sourcing well beyond those two criteria. It’s not your grandma’s responsible sourcing anymore.

Understanding the implications of this ever-broadening definition is critical for those in the meat industry who want to foster trust in their processes, products, people and brands. So, what does responsible sourcing mean? The bottom line is that consumers are increasingly defining responsible as practices that are good for people, animals and the planet.

Good for people includes me and my family, as well as those who are working to produce my food. Today, the public wants transparency when it comes to worker well-being. Are your workers making a fair wage? What are their hours? Is the working environment safe?

Consider the confection industry that has come under fire for sourcing chocolate from cocoa farms using child labor.  Those of us who grew up in agriculture know that working in production at a young age is a time-honored tradition, but the line between character building farm work and child exploitation in West Africa where poverty is endemic is now a global discussion.

And then there’s animal care. Are animals treated humanely? Does feed contain GMOs? Are animals able to exhibit natural behaviors?

The most recent UN report on the impact of animal agriculture on the environment is just the latest data point in a growing chorus of voices raising concern. A company’s or farm’s carbon footprint is a “hot” button issue (pardon the pun) that isn’t a passing fad. Daily headlines on the impact of climate change keep the issue front and center.

You might have read about Mighty Earth, an environmental activist group that launched their “Clean It Up, Tyson” campaign, which seeks to hold Tyson Foods accountable for soil degradation and water pollution in Middle America waterways and the Gulf of Mexico. They want to see major meat companies – and feed providers – improve standards across the supply chain from the packing room floor to the corn field in Iowa.

The pressure is real and will continue to grow in both intensity and the complexity of issues.

There are three things you can do to more successfully manage the ever-evolving definition of responsible sourcing.

  1. Get engaged in the discussion with the entire chain. Whoever defines an issue gets to control the debate.  Don’t wait for the next mandate from customers or advocacy groups.  Anticipate the issues and be engaged to help shape the outcome.
  2. Take Inventory. What do you do in your business that may impact people, animals or the planet? What are the expectations of your customers and other stakeholders?  Are your current practices aligned with those expectations? If not, can you modify expectations, or change practices to create better alignment.
  3. Tell your story. Are you getting credit for the good work you’re already doing? Have you taken the time to share your commitments to customers, advocacy groups and other interested stakeholders? You can capitalize on the value of that asset by consistently and effectively telling your story.

This evolving landscape may make your head spin, but the reality is change is the only constant.

Put your best foot forward by engaging in the dialogue to help define expectations, anticipating what’s next to stay ahead of the game, and making sure your most important audiences know what you’re doing now and how you’re evolving to be responsible by today’s new standards.

Charlie Arnot
CEO, Center for Food Integrity