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Saturday, 6 June 2015

What kind of food manufacturer joins the ELF Movement?

The “Eat Local Food” Movement (let’s call it ELF Movement) is gathering momentum as a force with some anticipated future effect on the food industry. It has a substantial focus on the very important subject of environmental protection among other things. But are the usual considerations for pushing the "Eat Local" idea the only things that should matter? Although I am attracted to this idea, it requires some serious thought.

Broadening the Consideration:

I fully support having local and smaller processing facilities for several reasons, including environmental considerations. Other considerations such as local employment in non-food production sectors and affordability of the local food by some members of the community are equally important. These other considerations are ignored as all eyes seem to quickly turn to “environmental protection”. Plausible arguments can be made for the environmental benefits but at what cost?

Effect on the Food Industry Landscape:

Could the ELF Movement gather enough momentum to change the way the food industry operates in the future? Common wisdom leads one to believe that this could be the case. In fact, more than the way the industry operates is likely to be affected. Businesses will likely be forced to tailor their operations in a way that caters to the sentiments driving the movement and the industry landscape will be affected.

The ELF Movement is poised to unveil a future with many local small-sized food processing operations. There will be less food manufacturing since “fresh” is also an ELF Movement motivator. Manufactured food is often not viewed as being fresh. Large food processors will have to scale down because the supply of locally grown food may not be enough to fill larger processing capacities. 

The scaling down will trickle down to the subsidiary industry sectors that support food processors and it seems reasonable to expect that the economic gains from increased business for local producers may very well be lost due to job losses as large processors scale down operations. Some published studies seem to present results that are contrary to this concern but the question remains. Can the growth in local food production sufficiently make up for any job losses caused by the possible loss of large scale processing or manufacturing operations? This question does not imply that very large food businesses automatically mean no job losses. In fact, as businesses grow larger through mergers and acquisitions, jobs are often lost. Large businesses also have more resources to acquire robotic systems with anticipated job losses at some levels. The companies providing the robotic systems may employ more people but the usual outcome of food companies switching to robotic systems is a net loss in jobs. Since company growth may also lead to job losses, the loss in jobs caused by the possible loss of large scale processing or manufacturing operations appear to be somewhat of a moot point.
The projected scaling down of food processing operations as a result of the ELF Movement gaining grounds seems to be more likely. This means that if the ELF Movement wins, although not likely to be the case in the immediate future, the food industry landscape may yet see the emergence of scaled-down operations with or without a net loss in jobs.

The Small Scope Advantage:

One other advantage that may be claimed for the ELF Movement is the fact that any food borne illness outbreak or recall is expected to affect a smaller (local) scope of individuals. This argument does nothing for me because one life affected by bad food is one life too many. What convinces me to support smaller scale food processing and manufacturing operations is the fact that they are easier to manage in ways that prevent food borne outbreaks. The cost of managing them towards this goal also needs to be scaled down to make it affordable for them. Here is where SSQA excels – cost reduction, stress prevention, confusion elimination, redundancy fighting, disagreement quelling, collaboration and community building, reality affirming and many more related benefits.

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Posted By Felix Amiri
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Felix Amiri is the current Food Sector Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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