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From farm to fork: Committing to traceability and trackability systems

03/12/2007


Ensuring consumers have accurate information about where their food is coming from has become more important than ever. That’s because in recent years, public debate about everything from the use of pesticides to the rise of genetically modified foods has sparked growing concerns about the safety of our food.

Recently Meyers Norris Penny conducted a “state of the industry” report aimed at evaluating traceability in the B.C. agri-food sector, including potential areas for improvement. The report was commissioned by the BC Ministry of Agriculture and was funded under the Agriculture Policy Framework, a federal/provincial/territorial initiative.

The report’s findings were based on a survey that included interviews with 45 respondents representing processors, primary producers, wholesale distributors and retailers, as well as questionnaire feedback from 60 respondents. The results provide valuable insights to grocers and other key stakeholders involved in Western Canada’s food industry.

Strategies for improving traceability

Several key observations on how the agri-food industry can enhance and refine its current system of traceability and trackability were identified. Among these recommendations were:

  • Enhancing cost-effectiveness. Costs associated with traceability standards and practices should be appropriate for a product’s value. As an example, using radio frequency identification technology to track a head of lettuce would be cost-prohibitive and generate limited value.
  • Improving accessibility. All commodity groups and supply chain segments should have access to standards and practices, and should be able to implement them with relative ease.
  • Increasing relevancy. The level and scope of traceability should be appropriate for the risk and value of the product. Timelines for implementing standards should also be reasonable.
  • Greater depth. Traceability is only effective within a network of multiple commodities and supply chain segments that use common standards and practices. Steps should be taken to ensure more consistent and accurate use of standards and practices. Standards and practices should also be multi-commodity and national in scope to limit the number of standards a company needs to support.
  • Increased leverage. Many respondents discussed the importance of using existing investments in traceability and/or data management systems. All expressed a desire for future traceability initiatives to enable integration with existing systems and programs.
  • Greater compatibility. Most respondents were influenced by products originating in other provinces and/or internationally, either as competition to their own product or as an item they handled and/or sold. Frustration with traceability will be exacerbated in light of differing standards and practices. Respondents also expressed a desire for widespread compatibility.
  • Increased precision. Industry stakeholders often view traceability to the consumer unit/item level as too costly compared to its benefits. Determining precision - and whether it will be to the unit/item level, case level, or lot/batch level - will need to be done in a manner that balances cost, complexity, risk of product, and implementation time.
  • Greater balance. Overall, respondents viewed the existing cost/benefit balance in the supply chain as being inequitable. Steps could be considered to facilitate collaborative projects that reduce supply chain traceability costs, ensure effective data sharing, simplify processes, and lower costs of ownership.


Farm to the Fork Reassurance For Your Customers

How do you measure the impact of a loss in customer confidence? In a market place inundated with food safety issues and claims, consumers are increasingly demanding to know where their food comes from and how it was grown. Grocery stores carrying products with effective traceability and trackability systems - and that communicate these systems to customers - are differentiated as outlets committed to consumer safety. They are also viewed as stores that stand behind the claims made by the products they carry. Their products are further differentiated from imports that lack Canadian health and safety standards, thereby strengthening the “buy Canadian” value perspective. This, in turn, can translate into greater customer loyalty to your stores.

As far as consumers are concerned, the buck stops at the grocery store checkout. What are you doing to ensure consumers know your operation and your suppliers have effective traceability and trackability systems in place? These systems identify responsibility - and thus liability - in today’s marketplace, while maintaining crucial consumer confidence.

Don’t wait for a crisis or a recall. Be proactive by establishing comprehensive traceability and trackability protocols that are enforced with your suppliers and communicated to your customers. This initiative will further differentiate your store brand, while providing your customers with one more reason to buy their groceries from you!

By Andrew J. Raphael, Director of Agri-Food. For more information, please contact your local MNP advisor or Andrew at 1.877.688.8408.