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Organizational Change
What Are We Really Eating? DNA Testing Enhances Transparency for Consumers, Supply Chains

As the demand for transparency and emphasis on consumer choice continue to grow, so do the challenges of supply chain management. Brands are increasingly expected to work with their suppliers to reduce their environmental impact, eliminate labor abuses, and replace certain ingredients. Ensuring product quality and label accuracy remains an issue, especially for brands with international suppliers or extensive supply chains.

Enter Clear Labs, a team of genomic scientists, bioinformatics specialists and software engineers who are indexing the world’s food using cutting edge DNA sequencing. They are able to test food products for ingredient accuracy, contamination, nutrition, GMOs, gluten, heavy metals, allergens, antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides. They partner with third party labs for the non-DNA testing, according to PSFK.

The company claims that their proprietary analytics platform, Clear View, allows brands to mitigate risk and enhance supply chain transparency. Their testing can allow food manufacturers to screen suppliers for missing ingredients, substitutions, non-labeled allergens, unhygienic elements, bacterial contamination, and natural toxins. After all, no one wants their company to be at the center of the next food fraud scandal.

The Clear Labs team is also using their research to inform consumers. Through its Clear Food initiative, the company is comparing hundreds of food product samples from numerous brands and retailers and delivering their findings through concise, comprehensive reports and “Clear Scores,” numerical representations of the average accuracy of a brand’s products. They aim to produce about one report and associated video per month; the most recent was focused on turkey.

“Our work is part of a broader ongoing process of raising the bar for safety and quality across the food industry,” Clear Labs’ VP of Product Maria Fernandez Guajardo told PSFK.

“The industry is heading in the right direction,” she added. “A great example is Campbell, which recently announced that they are planning on voluntarily labeling GMO ingredients. At Clear Labs, we’ve been working with a number of leading food brands and manufacturers to help them verify the quality of their foods, vet high-quality suppliers, validate the authenticity and quality of ingredients, and reduce the risk of recalls. We’ve been encouraged by the response to our new technology and the willingness to adopt higher standards.”

Companies can ship a sample to Clear Labs or associated third party lab to have DNA sequencing performed on the sample and compared against their extensive database, which includes information from their previous tests and other open-source genetic databases.

“The way we see it, accurate labeling helps consumers feel confident in the food they buy and feed their families. They can rest assured that their food is safe and free from contamination or unwanted ingredients,” Fernandez Guajardo shared with PSFK. “From a business perspective, the companies taking proactive steps to adopt higher labeling standards are also therefore adopting a differentiator that allows them to stand out from competitors, improve the strength of their brand, and increase margins.”

The company’s initiatives are reminiscent of Greenpeace’s supermarket rankings for seafood procurement and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) SmartLabel initiative, to be implemented first by Hershey this year. The idea of leveraging more data to enable a transparent marketplace is not new, but Clear Labs’ molecular sequencing approach and well developed videos offer a new approach.

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