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.”