What to trace? And why?

I’ve been looking at “farm to fork” food traceability in an attempt to articulate how “grower to garment” wool traceability is similar and/or different. (Don’t get me started on what either has in common with surveilling, er, tracing people…)

Here’s how IBM’s Smarter Food initiative frames the food problem and solution:

“Food is as fundamental as it gets. And our relationship with it has changed with every year. Just ten years ago, most consumers were focused on eating a diet low in fat. Biotechnology was extremely limited in its application and considered somewhat dangerous. And few people knew what organic meant or why it mattered. Today, the picture is one of heightened challenges. Food prices are soaring. Shortages have sparked unrest the world over. The threat of salmonella poisoning prompts the recall of millions of U.S. eggs. And every year, ten million people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases. At the same time, consumers are hungrier than ever for information about their food. They are better informed about nutrition and more aware of the environmental and societal impacts of everything they buy … With innovative digital technology and powerful solutions, IBM is making sure food is traced properly as it passes though an increasingly complex global supply chain. IBM is also making that food heartier through biological research. The future of food starts today.

Pet food. Lettuce. Peanut butter. Baby food. Milk. These are just some of the high profile recalls we’ve seen in the last year. Consumers worldwide are worried—and rightly so. Is their food safe? And where did it come from? One solution is track and trace technology, including 2D and 3D barcode and radio frequency identification (RFID). This allows us to track food from “farm to fork.” And now government regulations and industry requirements for quality and traceability are driving food producers worldwide to provide more detail on products. With an increasingly global supply chain, that detail must be comprehensive and reliable. And with that detail, companies can realize added value as well, such as a streamlined distribution chain and lower spoilage rates. In fact, consumer product and retail industries lose about $40 billion annually, or 3.5% of their sales, due to supply chain inefficiencies.”

IBM: Setting the Table for a Smarter Planet (pdf)

And here’s a series of articles on traceability:

Ten examples of brands dishing up details on food origins
App for shoppers rates how brands address forced & child labour
Swedish dairy uses tracking numbers as a ‘still-made-here’ marketing tool
Supermarkets offer increased food traceability, for info and safety
Site alerts consumers to product recalls that affect them

Or how about a more DIY, hands-on approach?

C&T2011 Workshop > Food(ing): Between Human-Computer and Human-Food-Experience

But the question remains: do people want or need the same information about products that they don’t eat, like clothing?

Tracing the history of what you buy
Zque: Ethical Wool
Icebreaker: Sustainability + Baacode
Patagonia: Footprint Chronicles
Rapanui Clothing: Traceability in Textiles
TEDxZurich: Robin Cornelius wants to make clothing traceable

And is there a difference between what we want to know and what we need to know?

Update: Siobhan O’Flynn extends this from “field to fork to feet,” or “bags at least”: You Gonna Eat That? And Wear It, Too?: A Restaurant in Brooklyn Sells Bags Made From the Hides of the Very Animals It Serves on Menu