Traceability in Agri – Food Industry and Need for Standards
Globally food production, trade and consumption are changing today. Expanding world economy, liberalization of food trade, growing consumer demand, developments in food science and technology, and improvements in transport and communication are leading to increased international trade in fresh and processed food. The agriculture and food sectors are increasingly getting integrated within global value chains wherein different stages of the process of transforming raw materials into a final consumer product are located across different countries/regions. Standards and regulations are required to ensure that food is safe, meets quality and labelling requirements to protect the consumers; as well as to protect the environment, animals and plants. Consumers are also increasingly becoming aware of food safety risks, food frauds, climate change and sustainability. As a result, certification of products with traceable or verified source claims like Organic, Sustainable, Non-GMO, Plant-based, Fair Practices etc. are gaining momentum. Industry players in the agri-food value chain are increasingly focusing on traceability by improving their supply chain management and adopting appropriate practices or relevant technology. Emerging players in developed countries are disrupting the value chain with unique business models relying on building partnerships/synergies with seed companies, aggregators and processors. Traceability is the key for such business models that connect the growers with buyers looking for traceable/ sustainable products.
Traceability is the ability to trace the history, application or location of an object. When considering agri commodity or food, traceability can relate to production and origin of crops/raw materials, processing history, distribution and location of the product after delivery. The benefits of traceability include:
- Efficient supply chain management,
- Increased compliance with regulations and safety & quality standards,
- Faster recalls/ tracing contaminated products, in case of outbreak of disease, or fraudulent products in supply chain,
- Verification of Identity Preservation/ Sourcing claims like Organic, Non-GMO, Non-Allergenic, Plant based, Sustainable, Fair Practices etc.,
- Increased market acceptance and international trade, and
- Maintaining trust and transparency in supply chains – much needed during public health crises like the COVID19 pandemic.
To enable traceability, supply chain actors need to identify and trace product’s movement from farm to fork. Growers must maintain records of information related to the production of the produce such as seed type and date of sowing, fertilizers and crop protection including date of application, irrigation source and quality, packaging material, harvesting method, labour used, storage etc.). Tracking the pedigree of planted seed to verify its source of origin is the starting point in traceability and becomes more crucial in wake of spurious & lowquality or illegal seeds in the market causing losses to farmers. To address this, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, GoI is putting in place a barcode based National Seed Traceability System. This traceability system covering grower to retailer will be based on Global Traceability System (GTS) framework for the movement of seed across supply chain.
Traceability and integration into global value chains in developing countries can be challenging due to lack of infrastructure and enabling policy frameworks, low capacity of smallholder farms and small-scale agro-processors, confusion between various industry practices, standards and data capturing applications. Many industry players today use several systems at various stages of the processes (e.g. ERP, Processing equipment, Logistics, CRM systems) which are often not connected seamlessly. Interoperability – the ability of different IT systems or programs to communicate seamlessly for the purpose of using, interpreting, exchanging data among supply chain actors – is a critical component of digital traceability. Since all actors in the supply chain may not use the same systems, industry needs to ensure interoperability by using systems that are able to support standardized data. Since a large number of small-scale operators in the value chain cannot invest in new systems, industry player’s traceability should be based on a system/ technology platform that can make use of data capture systems already in place like labels/ barcode scanners. Adoption of appropriate standards that cover the fundamentals of traceability i.e. identification of objects, data capture and sharing can help industry avoid maintaining multiple systems for different suppliers/ buyers and reduce data duplication and reconciliation. Adoption of traceability standards can help the industry collaborate with various supply chain actors and agree on scalable processes. Some of the standards for traceability include GS1 Global Traceability Standard and ISO 22005:2007 – Traceability. The more popular GS1 Global Traceability Standard defines a minimum set of traceability requirements within business processes to achieve full chain traceability, which are independent of any technology. This standard outlines a common framework to build a traceability system using other GS1 standards – such as barcodes, data carriers and also covers more recent Blockchain technology.
Globally, major agri-food players have started implementing end to end traceability for their products and are sharing information across the supply chain to meet food safety regulations of destination market, buyer requirements & specifications or to share true source of origin/ product or process information to consumers in a transparent manner via QR Codes/ labels on the product etc. Hopefully Indian Agri Food industry also, on wider scale, adopts traceability across their supply chains and in this journey empower the small farmers and smallscale producers with enhanced market visibility and enhanced incomes.
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