Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Feb 28, 2007 8:02am

transparency codes

I went to hear Michael Pollan (author, Omnivore's Dilemma) and John Mackey (CEO, Whole Foods) converse on the Zellerbach stage in Berkeley tonight. Peter has more notes. One thing really struck me. Actually, two things really struck me, but I don't want to talk about the fucked-up video depicting graphic abuse of animals at dairy, poultry, and hog farms that was part of Mackey's talk.

Pollan brought up a service offered in selected Danish supermarkets:

Packages of meat and poultry carry a bar code that, when scanned by a machine in the store, calls up pictures of the farm where the animal was raised, as well as information about its diet, living conditions, the date of its slaughter and so on. Imagine how quickly this sort of transparency would force a revolution in our food chain. (Produce Politics, scroll down)

Two years ago, Patrick told us about a service offered in Japan, where your store-bought bananas come with a code printed on the label that can be used to find a web page featuring the grower of that particular banana, and (I think) some details on when it was grown and where it came from.

It's too late to make an informed buying decision about a banana when you're back near a computer, and installing special reader hardware in supermarkets is expensive. Both ideas could be easily handled by cameraphone-readable QR codes like this one:

They're big in Japan, not so much in Europe or here. It'd be wild if an upcoming generation of mid-range mobile phones supported these dumb things. I'm told they're easy, and Aaron has been doing some smart stuff with codes and little folded-up paper printouts. They'd be an everyday vehicle for the kind of environmental information overlay that would make Pollan and Mackey's desire for food industry transparency remotely possible - where else would you want to make the decision, than right in the store when you're staring at two kinds of stilton trying to guess which cow suffered less?

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