Do You Know Where Your Veggies Come From?

If you've ever wondered where exactly your fruits and vegetables come from, you may now be in luck. Thanks to a newly developed "electronic produce tracking system," consumers will be able to learn intricate details about their fresh food with a computer and a few simple keystrokes.

The system could also dramatically improve tracking of produce that may have been contaminated.

"It allows a farmer to uniquely identify their product— whether it's a melon or a box of corn— with a unique number," said Elliot Grant, the chief marketing officer for Yottamark, the company that manufacturers the Harvestmark system. "Then the consumer can visit the Web site, type in the 24-digit produce number, and find out all of the harvest information."

Consumers will be able to determine the country of origin and the name and location of the farm, including the exact plot the product was grown on. Shoppers will even be able to find out exactly how many miles the produce traveled to reach the local market, a bonus for consumers who want to support local farmers and are sensitive to the size of the carbon footprint used to get their produce to the dinner table.

The system will be available to all producers, and is a larger, more ambitious version of a system Dole Foods unveiled this year to help consumers track their organic bananas.

Organic food's popularity is exploding. The Organic Trade Association said that the natural food market has grown by more than 40 percent since the 1990s. With the consumers' growing fear of contamination, transparency and traceability is vital for companies' continued success, advocates say.

"We are dealing with a consumer who has grown up with Google, for example, where with a few key strokes we can find out everything we want," said Grant. "Why shouldn't we able to do the same with produce?"

Where in the World Has Your Banana Been?

Consumers who buy organic Dole bananas can visit a Web site, type in a four-digit code found on their banana's label, and find not only the origin of the fruit but also locate the farm on a map and view photographs of farmers who may have picked their very banana.

For example, if you were to enter the digits 7-7-6 on, you would learn that the banana is from the Don Pedro Farm in La Guajira, Colombia. With a bit more digging, you would learn that this particular farm has more than 310 hectares of organic bananas and is one of the most successful banana farms in all of Latin America.

The Web site also provides certifications the farm has earned, as well as links to testimonials about the quality of the farm's crops.

Harvestmark hopes to take their system one step further by eventually installing kiosks in supermarkets so consumers can pick a piece of fruit, scan it and instantly see all the information, including a pop up map showing exactly where the item was grown.

Gimmick or Prevention Method?

Some industry gurus say that consumers have no real need for the immense amount of information provided by these systems and say companies are using them primarily as marketing tools. But proponents say produce tracking could be vital to an industry that has a lot to prove to wary consumers.

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