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Disruption of the food system

  • Food

Today the greatest minds are busy with disruption of banking system, automobile industry, space rockets, energy sector etc. But only a few seem to focus on our food system or “food value chain”

Organic Farming VS Conventional Farming?

People tend to forget that organic farming is actually the traditional way of farming. Industrial or conventional farming became the new norm for industrialized countries after the ‘green-revolution‘ of the 1950s and 60s. This period saw the development of new seed varieties, and mass use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation to produce higher yields. The big difference between organic and industrialized farming is that industrialized farming relies on chemical inputs and a highly mechanized approach, whereas organics is about farming holistically, recognizing that we are part of a broader ecosystem. Although, it is important to note that some large-sale organic farms still use industrialized approaches such as mono-crops and some industrialized farms also adhere to organic principles, using limited amounts of chemical inputs.

This blog post is about the food before its gets mixed-up and sold as added value product like a Starbucks chocolate chip oh sorry … the FDA won’t let Starbucks use the term ‘chocolate chip’. Its called a Starbucks “chocolaty” chip. Starbucks’ chips’ percentage of actual cocoa bean is too low to qualify as a true chocolate chip. That makes the little nibs perfect for melting, but less ideal in the dictionary definition of the term. (Starbucks chocolate chips). So always keep in mind the premium you pay for so called added value brand products actually have LESS chocolate less high quality ingredients inside that “premium” product. It makes totally sense from a classic economic point of view. Try to sell the lowest quality with the maximum of high end marketing to a even higher premium price. And does it work? Well currently this is the way most business work. Consumers are happy living the marketing-lie ;-). Is it bad or morally okay? Well its absolutely legal. Most fortune 500 companies do it. It seems that consumers are not aware of it or they simply don’t care about this little detail. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Try to investigate what quality of chocolate it being used for most chocolate bars… Try to see how and where the cacao is grown, fumigated, harvested, dried, fermented how much a cacao farmer makes selling the cacao beans. And how much the brand or the retailer makes selling the chocolate.

Riots and protests over food prices have broken out in 30 countries since 2007 (The Great Disruption).

The so called Fair Trade products are not really fair its more of a brilliant marketing stunt for the end consumer. Example: Reasons Fair-Trade Coffee Doesn’t Work.

Fairtrade is not transparent!

The Fair Trade Scandal, states, “Fair Trade is but the most recent example of another sophisticated ‘scam’ by the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market. This noble endeavor for the salvation of the free market was tamed and domesticated by the very forces it wanted to fight. With its usual efficiency, the free market triggered the implosion of the Fair Trade universe and hijacked its mission, without Fair Trade supporters and stakeholders even realizing it.”

Despite the implications of its name, “Fairtrade” prices do not necessarily cover any of the basic costs of life—like housing, food, or education—for growers. Fair Trade labels don’t list the amount paid to farmers; that sum requires research… The amount can vary depending on the commodity. An analysis using information from TransFair shows that cocoa farmers get 3 cents of the $3.49 spent on a 3.5-ounce chocolate bar labeled “organic fair trade” sold at Target in the UK (!) Farmers receive 24 cents for a one-pound (0.5kg) bag of fair trade sugar sold at Whole Foods for $3.79.

One sack (138 pounds) earns a Ghanaian farmer about $106, but can flavor more than 100 pounds of candy. Put another way: Ghanaian cocoa farmers are getting about 77 cents per pound, where a high-end maker selling 2-ounce chocolate bars for $9 apiece earns $72 per pound. Even your basic $2 bar brings in $16 per pound, about 20 times what the farmer gets. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, cocoa growers in West Africa earn, on average, about 6 percent of the final cost of a chocolate bar. (source YesMagazine)

example: Ecuadorian traffic light food label

Labeling: Product cost breakdown overview

In a ideal world every product should have a transparent label indicating not only the nutritional level like in Ecuador (Food Labeling in Ecuador) but also the product price value breakdown.

A transparent overview of the product cost breakdown: Production (farmer), packaging, Taxes, Marketing, Permits, Transportation, Listing, middlemen, retailer and commission costs E-commerce, carbon footprint, CO2, etc.

So fairtrade may be a better option but is still far away from FAIR. If you look at who creates the value eg food and who makes more value eg money it is never the farmer but always some middleman or the retailer… Why is this so important and what does that mean. Well at the end of the day it means that there is little $ motivation for the farmer to really care for the crops for them to be healthy. The motivation is to produce maximum quantity to make a little more money. So why should you care? Well 🙂 YOU will be most likely buying from some retailer food … and if you keep in mind that the price does not reflect the quality nor does fair trade or organic certifications…

T-shirt, craft beer, sneaker and chocolate bar price breakdown overview

Beer cost-to-make-adidas-yeezys Real cost of a chocolate bar

The current system is broken

Ideally would be to buy your food directly from the farmer but that highly unlikely going to happen today. BUT it would be the most logical thing. The farmer would sell at a better price for him and still be less expensive than the retailer in many cases. The quality would be much better knowing exactly where your food was grown. Nowadays we are far away from this.

“Often fair trade is sold at a premium, but the entire premium goes to the middlemen.” Farmers stay poor. End clients have no idea about product quality and social impact.

What about Organic/Natural/Free-Range/nonGMO and other Food Label  certifications?

The world of organic labelling is probably one of the most complicated ones. What does it actually mean? Biological or organic farmed products (fruit, vegetable, cereal or animal products, etc) are made without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified organisms, and probably some other unnatural practices. The animals producing meat, eggs or milk are not given any antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic is not always equally sustainable.

Organic food is food produced by methods that comply with the standards of organic farming. Standards vary worldwide, but organic farming in general features practices that strive to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

Selling food with an organic label is regulated by governmental food safety authorities, such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) or European Commission (EC).

The USDA states that the goal of organic foods and organic farming is to “integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” Certification costs vary depending on the size of your production operation and on the accredited agency you choose to use. In general, organic certification costs run between $200 – $1500. Your costs will include an application fee, site inspection fee, and an annual certification fee.

Organic/Bio Labels

To be able to use the word organic on a food label in Canada or the U.S., the product must have at least 70 percent organic ingredients and be free of GMOs and the worst of the food additives. A Certified Organic product contains at least 95% organic ingredients, and has an official USDA or Canada Organic/ Biologique label. These products are grown without chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, sewage sludge, or GMOs. Animals raised organically have access to pasture, eat organic feed that contains no antibiotics, and do not receive synthetic growth hormones. Organic products cannot be irradiated or have synthetic additives. The USDA Organic label can also be used on personal care products that meet the organic food standard for their products, meaning they are not only organic but made of edible ingredients. Canada does not have a similar option. Canada’s organic label has come under criticism recently because, unlike in the United States, Canada does not require field tests and it outsources certification in countries such as China that have questionable environmental standards. Nonetheless, the Certified Organic label for food is still the best assurance of quality.

Organic taste

Obviously, whether organic foods taste better is a matter of, well, taste. Many people swear by the difference in organic eggs, dairy, meats, and some produce. Others say that when blindfolded, those same people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between organic and conventional. There’s incredibly little data on this topic, so we’ll have to leave it up to you and your palate to decide. Price: At most supermarkets, organic goods come at a premium price. Part of it is a matter of supply and demand, and part of it is that organic produce, meat, and dairy often require more money to grow than conventional goods.

For many, eating organic is a luxury they can’t afford. For others, it’s a matter of taste and quality.

Organic yes or no?

If the reason you’ve been buying organic is because you believe they’re “better for you” nutritionally, then there’s no reason to continue according to current studies from the food industry…

However, if you’ve been buying them because they’re “better for you” in terms of chemical pesticides or growth hormones or antibiotics, you’ll definitely be getting food with lower levels (!) makes sense right. Also if the critical concern for you is environmental sustainability, or putting your money where your agricultural mouth is, then you have a compelling reason to keep buying organic.

nonGMO or GMO-Free Labels

GMOs — or genetically modified organisms — aka GM or GE (genetically engineered) refer to plants or animals created through the changing or merging of a species’ DNA. Canada allows GM varieties of corn, soy, sugar beets, canola, apples, and salmon. It’s the fourth largest producer of GM crops, well behind the U.S. and Brazil. We also import GM cottonseed oil, papaya, and squash. rGBH tainted milk products come from the U.S. in processed foods that contain milk solids or powders such as frozen desserts or mixed drinks with dairy. In the 20 years since GM ingredients were first introduced into Canada, these foods have made their way into most of the processed foods available in Canada. Unless you buy foods labelled organic or NON-GMO, you are almost certainly getting them in packaged foods that contain corn, canola, soy, or sugar. Unless the GMO-free claim is backed up with the NON-GMO Project label or, even better, one of the Certified Organic labels mentioned above, it’s a meaningless claim. It should be noted that the NON-GMO label does not mean that a product is organic. Indeed, having a NON-GMO label on something like strawberries is meaningless as strawberries are not currently being genetically modified anywhere, yet they are a pesticide-intensive crop. You are far better-off spending the money on the organic strawberries or skipping over all the conventional strawberries, including the NON-GMO ones.

Cage-Free, Free-Range, Grass-Fed, Hormone-Free, Antibiotic-Free, Natural, or All-Natural Labels

These terms can be used without the independent verification that a third party provides. This makes them meaningless. Add to the list “No Antibiotics Used” or “No additional hormones added.” When I see one of these terms without a third-party certification, I assume the company is greenwashing.

Gluten-Free and Other Allergen Labels

Food allergies are on the rise and can be deadly. In the U.S. and Canada, labels must note foods that contain the top allergens, gluten, and added sulphites. When something has an added “Gluten-free” label that means that the item does not include any gluten-containing ingredients, although there still may be cross-contamination. An item can be certified gluten-free as long as it has 20 parts-per-million of gluten or less, which is safe for those with Celiac disease. For most people avoiding gluten, it is enough to just contain the gluten-containing grains which are: wheat, kamut, semolina, spelt, barley, bulgur, and rye.


Often certified foods or products ARE sold at a premium, but the entire premium goes to the middlemen.” Farmers/producer stay poor. End consumers have no or just very little idea about product background (nutritional quality, environmental and social impact). Also fertilizing, the use of chemical pesticides and growth hormones in conventional farming has caused, and is causing, enormous damage worldwide to local ecosystems, biodiversity, groundwater and drinking water supplies, and sometimes farmer health and fertility.

Local food and seasonal food?

In a ideal world people would buy local food. Local fruits.

So if Europeans buy apple nothing to worry about right?

No. Its not that simple. Europe has been importing Chilean Apples like crazy in 2018 because also of the climate change and the droughts in Europe (Chilean apple exports rose by about 60% to EU). Also there is a EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ and apples are the 4th worth produce you can consume with the highest pesticides. According to that study 90% of conventional apples had detectable pesticide residues. 80% of apples tested contained diphenylamine, a pesticide banned in Europe. So if you do like apples try to eat them locally and seasonally. Good luck.

SOLUTION: Be the change you want to see!

We can encourage this by demanding that for example chocolate makers / retailers provide straightforward information about their products. Ask some hard questions about the chocolate on your store shelves—how much did farmers earn for the cocoa in this bar? Was it higher than the world market price, or about the same? What country did the cocoa beans come from? Expect to get correct information, and if someone answers you, “Switzerland,” start shopping somewhere else.

Possible solution in the Age of Social Media

(1) Cutting out as many intermediaries as possible from the food industry “value chain”

(2) Selling added value product via direct shipping (DropShipping) and subscriptions

(3) Labeling & communication: Transparent cost, quality and value for the end client

(4) Not limiting to one or a few products but enabling a generic direct trade system for farmers to create top quality added value products they can sell directly to end clients – thus increasing the potential gain for the farmer – thus motivating younger people to start farming again.

(5) You can be the change. After all you are going to eat it. So logically you should care about it…

(6) We could start to sell organic produce directly from the farmers to the consumers. DropShipping farm to table organic tropical crops aka “fair trade in the time of Social Media” …

Possible Solution something like CrowdContainer

1 thought on “Disruption of the food system”

  1. Thanks so much for shedding light on what most of us don’t know about ‘value-adding’ brands and low farmer income. Yes, the best idea is to buy from the farmers direct. I’m going to up my game. Thanks for the inspiration!

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