What you need to know about traceability, transparency

A woman shops in the produce section with two children.

Companies are touting traceability, transparency, sustainability and the strength of their supply chains. And they are highlighting how their products might fit with goals for clean eating or organic ingredients.

But what do all those terms and labels mean? We break down some of the most common terminology you might see so you can decide which ones have meaning for you.

What is transparency?

Companies that practice transparency are willing to answer the big questions from consumers: Where does this come from? How was it produced? Was it done in an environmentally friendly way? What about the employees—were they treated fairly?

Consumers have raised their overall expectations when it comes to wanting to know exactly what they are consuming, whether it’s food, drinks, restaurant entrees or nutritional supplements. Companies have responded, adding more information to packaging that goes beyond the nutrition labels or touting websites that answer those questions.

For example, companies that produce foods without added sweeteners, artificial colors or preservatives are spelling that out–and using it as a selling point to consumers. Restaurants have followed suit, adding more detailed descriptions of food and the source of their ingredients to menus.

A woman examines the label of a package in a grocery store.

What is traceability?

Traceability is the ability to follow whole foods or ingredients through their growth, production, processing, manufacturing and distribution. From a safety standpoint, tracking each step of production and the quality and safety testing done along the way is essential in case a problem arises.

For companies, traceability is a way to document their own efficiency, safety and transparency. Many are sharing this information with consumers as a way to tell their story.

For example, a company that produces canned tomato products might share information about where the tomatoes are grown, fourth-generation farmers who work there and what fertilizers or other products were used to along the way.

For Nutrilite, which has been practicing traceability for decades, it means sharing the path a botanical ingredient takes from the certified organic farms to the supplement bottle a consumer buys.

What is a supply chain?

When companies talk about traceability, they are talking about their supply chain—the path that starts with the growing or producing of raw ingredients, moving them on to processing and manufacturing, and finally into packaging and on to the consumer.

Traceability means being able to trace an ingredient from the beginning of the supply chain—the seed planted in the ground to produce the ingredient—to the end—the bottle in your hand or the food on your plate.

Crews at the Nutrilite certified organic farm in Mexico harvest dried chia for Nutrilite supplements.

What is sustainability?

In this situation, sustainability means producing items in a way that is environmentally sensitive. That means it won’t deplete resources or have long-term negative effects.

In food or botanical ingredient production, it means the farmers use good farming practices that preserve the health of the land, grow the healthiest, most potent crops, and treat employees well along the way. Sustainability is also a key part of clean eating.

What is clean eating?

Clean eating is a new kind of diet for some and a serious lifestyle commitment for others. People who strive to eat clean focus on picking whole foods in their most natural state. For example, a baked potato instead of a plate of french fries.

Clean eaters avoid foods that are heavily processed, contain artificial ingredients or excess sugar and they look for items that are produced sustainably. For more information on clean eating, including tips for incorporating it into your life, read 5 tips for clean eating.

A man's hands are shown cutting various vegetables on a round cutting board while a woman's hands lies cloves of garlic on the rim.

What does organic mean?

Official definitions of organic depend on the agency certifying something as organic. Different countries may have different definitions, but in general it means fruits, vegetables, botanicals, meat or dairy items and other crops are produced in a way that is free from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones.

It also dictates how things can be processed and that the items are free from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Consumers can look for logos and seals touting a product’s certified organic status, which is only awarded after strict government oversight and audits confirming that standards have been met.

Despite its strict standards on growing or processing, organic certification doesn’t require any post-harvest testing to check for crosswind contamination of pesticides or materials. That’s why some companies, including Nutrilite, are touting their rigorous testing schedules for quality, purity and effectiveness of its ingredients.

What does natural mean?

Natural seems like a common enough term, but in the U.S. companies have to meet a basic criteria before they put it on their product labels. And just because something is labeled “natural” does not mean it’s healthier or more sustainable than its non-natural competitors.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in order for the term natural to be used with a meat or poultry products it must contain no artificial ingredients or added colors and be only “minimally processed.”

By minimally processed, they mean “processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product.” The Canadian government has similar restrictions on the use of the term.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not yet regulate the term natural on food labels, but it has been investigating the possibility of doing so.

Learn more

All these terms and definitions can be confusing, which is why the growing number of companies leaning toward transparency is a good thing for consumers.

To learn more about the traceability practices used to make Nutrilite™ supplements, please visit the website for Amway US.

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