Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Round-up on compliance issues in food technology

Food technology, concerning the production processes that manufacture, transport, and distribute foods, continues to expand as disruptive technologies in general advance. As any practice that impacts food has obvious heavy impact on consumer safety, food technology practices are coming under increased scrutiny. While public attention was once mostly limited to risk-benefit analysis of various foods and the resulting consumer preferences and perceptions, innovative technologies are driving further questions and desires for customer protections and process disclosures.

  • In response to perennial consumer demand for more flavorful and interesting plant-based products to present vegetarian and vegan friendly burgers, Impossible Foods created their Impossible Burger, with soy leghemoglobin giving it an uncanny resemblance to meat and a regulatory problem with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration; can high-profile investors and customer interest overcome food safety concerns and the burdens of government supervisory challenges:  Impossible Burger’s ‘Secret Sauce’ Highlights Challenges of Food Tech
  • Walmart and a consortium of major food companies including Unilever and Kroger are experimenting with blockchain technology to simplify and automate their supply chains, in hopes of making a very complex set of production processes much more agile and enabling quicker investigations into outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, with improved documentation:  Walmart and 9 Food Giants Team Up on IBM Blockchain Plans
  • Another fascinating, developing use of blockchain in order to make the supply chain safer by combating food counterfeiting and tampering, illegal shipping, and industry malpractice by tracking products through the process and requiring non-anonymous, reliable documentation, all informed by industry “spying” that has uncovered the causes of abuses across food business sectors and country cultures:  Inside the Secret World of Global Food Spies
  • Personalized nutrition plans combine the trend for home genetic testing with consumer desires for at-home meal delivery or menu selection services, but how does freedom of choice and a culture of individual preference with emphasis on customization fit in with the goals of libertarian paternalism that can be espoused by suggesting biometrically-determined food choices:  I sent in my DNA to get a personalized diet plan. What I discovered disturbs me. 
  • Amazon continues to search for growth opportunities in the food business after announcing plans to acquire Whole Foods earlier this summer, this time turning to U.S. military technology to aim to deliver meals that do not need to be refrigerated, but will consumers be enthusiastic or will this solution only create new potential problems in trademarking of kits and safe fulfillment of orders:  Amazon looks to new food technology for home delivery

Blockchain will likely continue to pose the most challenging and exciting advances in the food technology industry. Making the supply chain for food more transparent and accountable, and also simpler to navigate, is a lofty goal which would serve the public interest. Integrity and consumer choice in the food business, with or without the impact of regulatory supervision, should drive innovation going forward.