In an ever-increasingly complex food system, tracing our food becomes more and more complicated. Where was a certain ingredient produced? Who processed it? How was it distributed?
When there’s a food scare caused by an illness outbreak, these are important questions that need to be answered. If a jar of peanut butter is making people sick, you have to be able to go back through the supply chain to figure out what exactly is causing the illness. Is it the peanuts themselves? Is it something in the processing facility? Or maybe the jar was contaminated when it was packaged?
“Currently, the complexity of following food through a global supply chain makes the process of traceability slow and inefficient in times of crisis,” Brian Sterling, managing director of the Global Food Traceability Center, told Food Safety News.
Sterling is one of the authors of a new report on food traceability, published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. The report ranks the food traceability practices in the 21 OECD countries. In the report, the only area of the world where countries were found to have “Superior” food traceability practices was the European Union. The United States, along with other countries like Canada and Japan, were ranked as “Average.”
Why are European countries ranked so well? The EU has made food traceability a cornerstone of their food policy, and they even have an interactive website to explain food traceability to consumers. Adopting EU legislation has made these countries leaders in food traceability.
Everywhere else in the world, we have a bit of work to do. As Food Safety News points out, the United States is “one of only two major beef-producing countries without a national cattle identification or traceability system.” This contributes to making the U.S. score “Average.” China, however, ranks as “Poor.”
“Standardized traceability of food products does not currently exist in China. It’s a long way from it,” David Mahon, Beijing-based managing director of an investment firm focusing on China’s food and beverage sectors, told the Independent.
Ensuring food traceability also means ensuring the technology to be able to this kind of tracking across complex supply systems. There’s certainly an economic argument to be made for embracing food traceability; according to The Guardian, “the global market for food traceability technology is predicted to grow by 8.7% annually for the rest of the decade and be worth $14.1bn by 2020.”
In our modern global age, our food can come from anywhere on the planet, and this alone highlights the need for better systems to be in place to assure that countries can better deal with food crises.
“This is why it’s imperative that traceability requirements and regulations be harmonized across the globe. Industry and regulators need to minimize the potential for misunderstanding and delays due to difficulties in understanding each country’s practices. Harmonizing requirements has been shown to mitigate unnecessary costs of compliance,” Sterling said.
Photo Credit: Lyza