This page provides references to ERS publications and journal articles:

"Food Traceability: One Ingredient in a Safe and Efficient Food Supply"—Food traceability is one element of any supply-management or quality/safety control system. Food producers have voluntarily built traceability systems to track the grain in a cereal box to the farm and the apples in a vat of apple juice to the orchard (April 2004).

The following report investigated the traceability baseline in the United States and found that private sector food firms have developed a substantial capacity to trace (March 2004):

Traceability in the U.S. Food Supply: Economic Theory and Industry Studies

The following report examines the economic rationale behind various claims about the effects of mandatory country-of-origin labeling. Profits motivate firms to innovate and introduce thousands of new food products each year to satisfy consumers' demand. Yet food suppliers have generally not emphasized, advertised, or labeled food with "Made in USA." The infrequency of "Made in USA" labels on food suggests suppliers do not believe domestic origin is an attribute that can attract much consumer interest. ERS researchers found that suppliers would be able to provide such labels if there were sufficient consumer interest (January 2004):

Country-of-Origin Labeling: Theory and Observation

"Traceability for Food Safety and Quality Assurance: Mandatory Systems Miss the Mark"—Policymakers have recently started weighing the usefulness of mandatory traceability for managing diverse problems such as the threat of bio-terrorism, country-of-origin labelling, mad cow disease, and identification of genetically engineered foods. The question is: when is mandatory traceability a useful and appropriate policy choice? (See Golan, Elise, Barry Krissoff, Fred Kuchler, Kenneth Nelson, Gregory Price, and Linda Calvin. "Traceability for Food Safety and Quality Assurance: Mandatory Systems Miss the Mark," Current: A Journal of the Canadian Agricultural Economics Society, no. 4, pp. 27-35, 2003).

"Traceability in the US Food Supply: Dead End or Superhighway?"—Although the United States does not mandate system-wide traceability, firms have a number of motives for establishing traceability systems; as a result, private-sector traceability systems in the United States are extensive. The breadth, depth, and precision of private traceability systems vary depending on the attributes of interest and each firm's traceability costs and benefits. Mandatory traceability that fails to allow for variation across firms may impose unnecessary costs on firms already operating efficient traceability systems (2003).

"Traceability for Food Marketing and Food Safety: What's the Next Step?" —Traceability systems are recordkeeping systems that are primarily used to help keep foods with different attributes separate from one another. When information about a particular attribute of a food product is systematically recorded from creation through marketing, traceability for that attribute is established. This article examines the economic rationale for private firms to establish traceability and the economic arguments for government-mandated traceability (February 2002).

The following report traces the economic theory behind food labeling and presents three case studies in which the government has intervened in labeling and two examples in which government intervention has been proposed. Economic theory suggests that the appropriate role for government in labeling depends on the type of information involved and the level and distribution of the costs and benefits of providing that information (January 2001):

Economics of Food Labeling

Last updated: Thursday, October 06, 2016

For more information contact: Fred Kuchler

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