Summit meetings are usually successful if the right people choose to attend, and by that measure the Traceability Interoperability Summit that ends today in Denver has achieved at least one of its goals. 

Traceability Institute LLC, based in Colorado Springs, CO and Brussels, Belgium, pulled the summit together with a “Who’s Who” on a subject that could make a big contribution to world food safety.  Given the gathering’s participants, it could not help but make news and did.

Here are some examples:

Dr. David Acheson, who was until the middle of last year Associate Commissioner of Foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said the agency promised “guidance” on traceability that was due out last October will probably never be released.

Acheson, who is now managing director of Food and Import Safety Practice for Leavitt Partners, says now FDA is more likely to wait for Congress to pass food safety reform legislation and then just begin to implement the new law, which will contain some specific requirements on traceability.

None other than Gary Fleming, who was one of the founding fathers of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) is wondering whether enough retailers will demand use of the barcode-based tracking system to make its planned 2012 launch effective.  Fleming is a supply chain expert and president of the Symolon Group.

Douglas C. Bailey, chief information officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said USDA is close to rolling out traceability guidelines for meat and poultry.

Bailey, who also chairs the Meat and Poultry B2B Data Standards Organization (mpXML), said the process has taken longer than anticipated, but does draw on work that has already begun for the produce industry.

The federal government’s existing “one up and one down” trace back requirements that were enacted as defenses against terrorists after 9-11 do not provide enough traceability for food safety, said Nancy Donley, the volunteer president of Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.).

Donley, whose organization represents consumers and victims of foodborne illness, told the summit that the public wants a traceability system that proactively provides protection, not just a reactive one to be used for recalls.  Her 6-year-old son died after eating beef contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 in 1993.

The Traceability Institute’s Miodrag Mitic opened the summit by explaining the elements that must come together to achieve “traceability interoperability.”  Among those were a unique ID-like barcode, record keeping, timely correlation of records, and the ability to issue timely reports.

Acheson said the private sector could influence the regulations that emerge after the new food safety bill is passed, but must accept that fact that FDA will insist on electronic systems that work quickly.