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Organic oranges in a cardboard box

The (non-)transparency on the origin of food

Knowing where an orange comes from, who has grown it, and whether chemicals have been used is more difficult than obtaining a master’s degree in e-commerce. 



How accessible is the information?

In a supermarket, the information is usually on a label if you buy packaged fruit or on a sign if you buy it in bulk. This information is very generic. On the sign it tells you the price, country of origin, variety, and category (what does each category mean?). On the labels you will also usually find the packaging date, size, and treatment with waxes, imazalil among others.

By buying the same fruit directly from the producer via the Internet, you have access to more detailed information:

• The origin of the fruit doesn’t only tell you the country but also the location where the farmer owns his farm.
• Harvest date: Direct sales are generally associated with greater freshness. Farmers collect the fruit on demand and send it directly to you.
• Social impact: not everyone tells you, but no one stops you from asking for it. How many people work on the farm? Do they work full-time or part-time? Under what conditions?
• Environmental impact: How was the fruit grown? What happened during the season and how did the weather affect the harvest? How do they control pests?

To what extent is the information understandable?

On the labels of the fruit that we buy in a supermarket, we are only told about the treatments they have received during packaging and not during the growing process. Furthermore, these treatments are explained with unknown alphanumeric codes.

In the case of waxes, for example, they are represented by a code beginning with the letter E followed by numbers indicating the type of wax. These waxes are applied for aesthetic purposes: to polish the fruit and prevent it from perspiring so that the skin does not age. 

The code indicates the type of wax and where it is extracted. Here are a few examples:

E901: beeswax (animal origin)
E902 : candelilla wax (vegetable origin)
E903 : carnauba wax (plant origin)
E904: shellac (animal origin)
E912: mountain wax (of mineral origin)
E914: oxidised polyethylene wax (synthetic, petroleum-based)

These type of wax can also be found in fruit with the organic seal.

In the direct sales model, it is usually the farmer who is responsible for harvesting and preparing orders. Their daily activity consists of collecting the fruit they have sold. In this case, there is no need to apply waxes because the product reaches the consumer within a few days.

Illustration of a woman with a box of oranges and an orange on the tree

Is it easy to get more information?

On the labels of the fruit, we find the obligatory information that comply with the health regulations of each country. But this is not the only information on which consumers base their purchase decision. It is not easy to find more information in a supermarket. Asking questions to store personnel does not guarantee that you will get the answers you are looking for.

How much money does the farmer get for the fruit? How much water was used? How many kilometres has it travelled? How was it transported? 

This information is increasingly important for consumers to decide what, where and from whom to buy. It is these questions that are causing a resurgence of direct food sales between farmers and consumers.



I'm a “farmeneur” working for farmers in CrowdFarming and as a farmer in Naranjas del Carmen. I enjoy reading and writing about logistics and discussing its impact on food supply chain.