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Survey Indicates Progress on Traceability

On Thursday, the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), a comprehensive program to build an electronic trace-back system throughout the produce supply chain, released the results of a survey of more than 260 industry members.

The survey, which was conducted online by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and United Fresh Produce, was designed to gauge industry members’ adoption of the PTI. According to Ray Gilmer, Vice President of Communications for United Fresh, the survey appeared to include a wide range of industry members, from the small family grower/shipper/packer to medium and corporate size organizations.

A public notification released by the PTI Steering Committee stated that “Awareness of PTI is high,” with “approximately 70 percent of the industry working towards implementing PTI.” At this point, the survey indicated, 58 percent of the industry is on target to meet the milestones as recommended by the PTI action plan for market implementation by 2012.

“It’s a good indicator of the industry recognizing the need to improve produce traceability,” Gilmer told Food Safety News. “The fact that 58 percent are on target is a good number.”

However, Gilmer acknowledged that the goal of implementing traceability across the industry by 2012 is probably unattainable.

“Since the PTI initiative is a voluntary initiative and there is no penalty for not meeting the milestones, we do not anticipate having 100 percent of the USA market compliant by 2012,” he said.

The idea, Mr. Gilmer said, is to prepare the industry for pending food safety legislation that would require complete traceability across the market. Instead of waiting for legislation to pass through Congress, he said the PTI is an opportunistic way to voluntarily establish standardized produce traceability.

Although 70 percent of respondents indicated progress towards implementations, those who did not mentioned cost as a primary concern.

“As with any new system there are challenges to be addressed and the first implementations are usually the most expensive,” Gilmer said. “However, cost will drop as volume and experience expands. Already we see innovations taking place to reduce costs. The bigger penalty for the last adopters could be loss of customers if they are not able to comply and their trading partners will only purchase from those in compliance.”

© Food Safety News
  • hhamil

    Zach,
    What a positive “spin” the PMA and United Fresh are putting on this, or is it dissembling? A listserve for the produce industry in which I participate paints a decidedly different picture. In addition, I know of no one in the local, healthy food movement that is participating in this but I doubt they have been asked. I know I wasn’t.
    A monolithic, top-down system is way too premature at this point. The technology is undergoing huge changes and there needs to be shake out. Besides, for those of us in a local food system, there is little need for elaborate systems as almost none of what we produce goes through more than 2 nearby intermediaries until it is consumed.
    Big systems like this are designed for and needed by industrial ag not local oriented ag but industrial ag knows that inappropriately requiring it of us helps block us from growing our market share.
    A good example of this type of this unstated, but certainly not unintended, consequence of this type of regulation is in the recently published, “Food Safety in the 21st Century” by Richard Williams, Robert L. Scharff & David Bieler
    http://mercatus.org/sites/default/files/publication/MOP71_Food%20Safety_web.pdf.
    For those who want more info, write me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com

  • Harry Hamil

    Zach,
    What a positive “spin” the PMA and United Fresh are putting on this, or is it dissembling? A listserve for the produce industry in which I participate paints a decidedly different picture. In addition, I know of no one in the local, healthy food movement that is participating in this but I doubt they have been asked. I know I wasn’t.
    A monolithic, top-down system is way too premature at this point. The technology is undergoing huge changes and there needs to be shake out. Besides, for those of us in a local food system, there is little need for elaborate systems as almost none of what we produce goes through more than 2 nearby intermediaries until it is consumed.
    Big systems like this are designed for and needed by industrial ag not local oriented ag but industrial ag knows that inappropriately requiring it of us helps block us from growing our market share.
    A good example of this type of this unstated, but certainly not unintended, consequence of this type of regulation is in the recently published, “Food Safety in the 21st Century” by Richard Williams, Robert L. Scharff & David Bieler
    http://mercatus.org/sites/default/files/publication/MOP71_Food%20Safety_web.pdf.
    For those who want more info, write me at healthyfoodcoalition@gmail.com

  • Quote (A public notification released by the PTI Steering Committee stated that “Awareness of PTI is high,” with “approximately 70 percent of the industry working towards implementing PTI.” At this point, the survey indicated, 58 percent of the industry is on target to meet the milestones as recommended by the PTI action plan for market implementation by 2012.)
    Maybe on Awareness but not on target as the only target is The FDA/FSIS mandatory rules where some rules go into effect upon signing real soon and not in 2012.
    Quote (“It’s a good indicator of the industry recognizing the need to improve produce traceability,” Gilmer told Food Safety News. “The fact that 58 percent are on target is a good number.”)
    That target of 100% to improve traceability will never be hit but the industry has to hang their hat on something to improve traceability. Harry is right.
    Quote (However, Gilmer acknowledged that the goal of implementing traceability across the industry by 2012 is probably unattainable.)
    I got news that the traceback law has to be attainable by signing or the set period after that will be mandatory as deemed by FDA and FSIS. The fines will be too costly to do otherwise.
    Quote (“Since the PTI initiative is a voluntary initiative and there is no penalty for not meeting the milestones, we do not anticipate having 100 percent of the USA market compliant by 2012,” he said.)
    Initiatives are just goals, but mandatory rules will have to be met and I agree that with the high costs of a GS1/PTI system, no one wants to go that route with those costs when the GS1 will not be ready even by 2012 and some of the new rules like electronic recordkeeping start at signing, which is only a few weeks away. As for agriculture producers, I haven’t heard of any that has a system ready to go with full blown traceback from every grower, handler, packer in a interoperable date and time stamped inexpensive system from field to fork other than ones using ScoringAg.

  • Harry, you are so right.
    The PMA published a survey earlier this year regarding PTI implementation. They received fewer than 300 responses. Are the “260 industry members” cited above the same respondants? PMA boasts a membership in excess of 7,000. That would translate into a 3.7% response rate. That is less than the margin of error in most elections. Pretty weak. No wonder you weren’t asked.
    Yesterday, The Packer hosted a live webinar/roundtable – “Traceability Challenges and Solutions: A Roundtable Discussion”. Throughout this discussion, the “audience” was polled on elements of PTI: Will the timeline be met? Will PTI ever be the norm? What role, if any, will Government play in oversight?
    Panel members echoed that which is abundantly clear in the marketplace…Small-to-medium size producers are not going to implement PTI unless or until they are forced to by rule of law/threat of fines.
    Echoed, too, was your contention that traceability is more a necessity for Big Ag and meat producers. Obviously there have been the ignominious recalls involving spinach, peppers, peanuts products – and why is Stewart Parnell not incarcerated? -, but the fact remains that less than 5% of food products recalled fall into the “fresh produce” category.
    The power grab the government is attempting closely mirrors the healthcare situation. In both situations, there ARE problems. But never – NEVER – has government intervention been the solution. (Amtrack, USPS, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid – just in case anyone would argue that point.) There is room for improvement in our food chain, but the fixes should evolve from free-market enterprise. PTI is an example of this. Whether it is embraced by the industry or left to wither on the vine – forgive the pun – should be decided through the marketplace, not by government fiat. The consumer pays the ultimate price – whether in the cost of the product or health-related costs – so let them vote with their dollars.
    A perfect example of this is the growth of the Organic foods industry. Even in a down economy, the organic foods segment continues to grow. This is a vote of confidence from the consumer! The consumer is already censoring their purchases, looking for products they feel safer in consuming.
    As to William’s comments above, I am somewhat confused and would appreciate some clarification; “I got news that the traceback law has to be attainable by signing or the set period after that will be mandatory as deemed by FDA and FSIS. The fines will be too costly to do otherwise.”
    I don’t know what that means. What news or source stated that traceback law has to be attainable by signing? What does “be attainable by signing” mean? Also, could you define “the set period after that”? I’m at a loss here, as I don’t recall any references to this language in anything I’ve read.

  • First for clarification, I represent FoodTRACE, a better option to traceability and food safety than PTI.
    Regarding the article, Harry is on track. This is a very poor attempt by PMA to mask the results to their benefit. It didn’t work. I have conversations with grower/shippers, distributors, retailers, terminal market operators and other industry participants, mostly of which are members of PMA as well, each and every week.
    Let’s put their numbers into REAL perspective. The PMA has over 7,000 members. The survey was available to all. They had a total of 263. That is 3.7% of their members. Of the respondents, they state 58% is on target. That would be 137 of the 263. Therefore, according to their numbers, a grand total of 1.8% of the PMA membership is on target. I guess according the PMA, the other 98.2% that are not do not matter?
    Let’s put another perspective to it. Recently the Packer & Famous Software hosted a webinar on the status of the PTI. My first point in that is that the lady from Sysco made some statements regarding the current implementation level of GTINs within Sysco. According to informed sources, that information she relayed was incorrect. Regardless of that, the webinar had over 600 registrants of which very close to 400 watched it live from what I have been told. (I’d like those numbers confirmed by the Packer if they are not correct). One of the survey questions was the viability of the PTI. I think it was 81 or 87% (definitely in the 80’s), of the 400 that watched it, stated that the PTI would not work IN its present for AND within the prescribed timeline. I do NOT know how many people responded to the question. The point is, according to the webinar, 80+% of the industry say it won’t work and according the PMA 58% are on target…..hmmmmm….who’s right??? I’m not betting on the PMA with their lopsided logic on this matter.