Oct 18 2011
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At the table
The consumer is master of the feast
But food is a fundamental ingredient of our lives and our health, following only air and water in its importance, and consumers have a right to know how the food they buy is produced. Every country needs to ensure the transparency of its food system, though governmental monitoring need not be the only force at work. Consumers have the opportunity every day to vote with their fork, as food writer and activist Michael Pollan says.
Creatures of habit
Some would suggest that we hound our government officials to fix these problems for us. Indeed, government action seems to be what Ghanem's program was calling for most prominently. But as we know too well, endeavors like this can take years and have already fallen through the cracks between successive governments on several occasions. What consumers can do right now is perhaps a more necessary discussion.
It is a good question and it has a simple answer. Be the regulator. Consumers are creatures of habit. We shop in rituals, often sticking to the same brands of canned goods, chicken, candy, etcetera. So why not investigate these habits?
Packaged and prepared foods have become a godsend in a time of two working parents. But in their quest for market share and the bottom line, food manufacturers have turned to chemicals to keep shelf lives longer and tastes more intense. The ingredients on the label can have a serious effect on our health, not to mention those that are not disclosed.
Lebanon's poultry industry is one of the country's success stories, producing enough chicken to satisfy private consumption and exporting frozen product around the region as well. But what is the difference between the big three poultry producers? Just because the price is capped does not mean that all Lebanon's chicken is created equal.
Then there is organic agriculture, which is growing worldwide, including here in Lebanon. Though a tiny sector at present, organic agriculture is growing fast and brands and distributors are multiplying by the day. But as usual, the devil is in the details.
For this report Executive played consumer. We looked at some sectors of Lebanon's food industry and investigated the fundamentals. Naturally, we were not always well received, but a door held closed often says as much as a door opened. And if consumers were able to take control over the food they consume, shifting the tide of a free market food system toward quality and health might come faster than waiting for regulation -- and could outlast any government.
© Executive 2011
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