Foodprint is a term advocacy groups use to describe the environmental impact of the process of getting food to plates.
A new website aims to break that process down for consumers. Thursday morning, FoodPrint.org launched to increase public awareness of environmental and public health issues created by the food system, and to advocate for more sustainable alternatives. The site was built by GRACE Communications Foundation, a non-profit organization based in New York.
"The goal of it is to pull back that curtain on the industrial food system and to help explain the benefits of more sustainable practices," Jerusha Klemperer, program director of FoodPrint at GRACE Communications Foundation, said on a call this week where she gave a preview of the new website. "We’ve got tips, tools, guides for helping people make food choices that help them eat in line with the values we saw them speaking out about."
"The goal of it is to pull back that curtain on the industrial food system and to help explain the benefits of more sustainable practices."
Program director of FoodPrint at GRACE Communications Foundation
The site aims to educate consumers about where their food comes from, how it was made and its impact both on the environment and on the welfare of animals and workers in the manufacturing process. The website currently includes resources to explain those processes, including building a labeling guide, showing ways to dine sustainably, describing food waste and packaging, and providing product-specific deep dive reports to explain the foodprint of each item.
Klemperer said the team of writers and researchers working on the platform look at it as a "living, breathing site." The communications team plans to update it daily to provide readers with the latest food news, trends, regulations and studies.
FoodPrint.org is already hitting major consumer trends. Sustainability and food transparency have become more popular in recent years. Klemperer said the communication group was able to find out what people are looking for through a survey on consumer perceptions of labeling. The survey was conducted by market research company GfK, and interviewed 1,000 household food purchasers.
The survey found a substantial percentage of consumers are driven by their values, but a majority are confused by labeling terms. Many misunderstand what claims mean, thinking terminology like natural, pasture-raised and humane means more than it actually does.
"The survey results helped us understand the need for a site like this and helped us organize it," Klemperer said.
According to the results, two-thirds of people want local seasonal fruits and vegetables. Almost 40% want products from animals who were treated well. Nearly a quarter want organic food.
Urvashi Rangan, chief science advisor at GRACE Communications Foundation, said the team learned people have values connecting them to their food, but they might not understand what those values look like on a label.
"Consumers are not necessarily making the choices to meet their values."
Chief science advisor at GRACE Communications Foundation
"Consumers are not necessarily making the choices to meet their values," Rangan said.
The website provides consumers with a food label guide defining common terms found on food, such as non-GMO, USDA Organic and Certified Naturally Grown. It also breaks down additional terminology and practices in six of the largest food categories, including produce, dairy and meats. For example, FoodPrint's report on eggs defines terms like Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and forced molting, when producers withhold food from hens to force them to lay eggs.
But the website isn't just for consumers. Klemperer said the organization also hopes food companies will look at it.
"One of the things we’ve really seen in the past five to 10 years is that food companies are motivated by their bottom line, by what they know or believe consumers want, and we have seen major changes," Klemperer said. "For food companies to see this tool and to see what it is people are curious about and reading about is definitely a powerful thing."
Rangan added that a lot of companies are using labels — such as organic and non-GMO — and want to be sustainable, but make over-simplistic claims.
"They just don’t stack up to what consumers really want and we want to expose that, but we really want to incentivize companies to do the right thing," Rangan said. "You are seeing all these general claims out there and there is certainly interest from companies to portray themselves as more sustainable. We want them to do that in the most meaningful way."