Dr. Aleda V. Roth
Dr. Aleda V. Roth

Clemson University’s Aleda V. Roth studies the global supply chain’s impact on public health, community, environment and economic security. For several months, she is conducting that research at Texas A&M University as a Texas Institute for Advanced Study (TIAS) Eminent Scholar.

While at Texas A&M, she is a visiting professor at Mays Business School, working with the Department of Information & Operations Management. She is collaborating with Greg Heim and Michael Ketzenberg, Mays associate professors of information and operations management, and will explore relationships with Texas A&M’s scholarly programs in agriculture and life sciences. She will also collaborate with Rich Metters, Tenneco professor and department head of information and operations management at Mays, and with other faculty and students at Mays.

Roth shared her story as part of her TIAS Distinguished Department Lecture at Mays, “Broken Chains: Insights from Food Supply Chains and Ecology.”

“Before 2006 I was an ordinary supply chain person. Then I became interested in the broader issues of the lack of transparency in global supply chains when my dog, Lady,  became sick,” she recalls. “Lady had elevated kidney enzymes due to tainted dog food. At that time, hundreds of brands and generic pet food were being recalled due to one small adulterated ingredient—wheat gluten–that came from China. That led me to think about reframing the way we think about risks in food supply chains overall. We are masters of supply chain innovation, but we don’t always know what we don’t know.”

Roth hopes to reduce the operational risks in FDA-regulated supply chains, particularly those associated with foods and pharmaceuticals. She is especially concerned about food and ingredients imported from China and other emerging markets. Almost 13 percent of foods Americans consume comes  from China, including about 70 percent of apple juice, 43 percent of mushrooms, and 78% of tilapia; and about 80 percent of active ingredients in pharmaceuticals emanate from overseas, especially from China and India. U.S. regulatory bodies have limited capacity to police imported product flows. Less than 3% of imported food is inspected by the FDA; and for China, about only about 1.3 percent of the drugs makers are subjected to inspections a year. In emerging market countries, it is well-known that food safety problems often arise because of  noncompliance with laws and standards, and these problems are exacerbated by corruption and counterfeiting. Roth is focusing on an even more egregious problem in emerging markets. Namely, the high levels pollution and toxic chemicals that entering the air, water, and soil are being taken up by plants and animals; and thereby, an unknown level of toxins and heavy metals are entering the food supply chains.

Roth describes a new triple bottom line for long supply chains: Sustainability, corporate responsibility and quality of life hold keys to the solution. She asks, “Is the pursuit of inexpensive food really tipping the scales in terms of ecological health, and in turn, in creating an adverse impact on people’s well-being and health care costs.

She cited some examples that bolster her case:

  • The cancer incidence in China is rising at alarming rates, in part, due to pollution.
  • About 40 percent of the rice samples from Hunan region were positive for cadmium, a known carcinogen that damages kidneys and lungs
  • The discovery in early 2013 of more than 16,000 pigs floating in rivers in China, which threatened Shanghai’s drinking water supply

“Americans are not immune. Lead levels in rice imported from China and other Asian countries are up as much as 60 times the level recommended safe for children. Yet, consumers are remain blindside to what they are consuming.”  Roth says. “There is no requirement for labeling the country of origin for ingredients or processed foods. A loaf of bread can contain wheat from nine different countries, and no labeling is required. Transparency in country of origin—for all food ingredients– will give consumers the information they need to make informed choices about the food they purchase.”

As the Burlington Industries Distinguished Professor at Clemson University, Roth’s research seeks theoretical and practical explanations of how firms can best deploy their operations, global supply chains and technology strategies for competitive advantage. With more than 200 publications, Roth’s work ranks in the top 1 percent of production and operations management scholars in the U.S. and ranks 7th worldwide in service management research.

She describes herself as “kind of a Renaissance woman” due to her broad education, with degrees in management, biostatistics and supply chain management.

Roth concluded her TIAS presentation by showing a picture of Lady — her fully recovered dog. “As you can see, she is fully recovered and doing fine.”

About Mays Business School

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.