Food Traceability – I’m kind of done with it

I guess I’m not really done with it permanently, but for now I am. Over the past few weeks I wrote thoughts on different aspects of traceability. I came lately to the conclusion, that we will not get significant changes implemented any time soon. The pending bill (s.510) is stalling over $1.4 Bill in funding and it will not really change much once it passes anyway. I think we all need to go back to the drawing board.

First, we need to think about legislation that really makes our food supply safer, not about what we do when we have unsafe foods in the food supply chain. It cannot be, that we accept the fact that we have approx 300 recalls each year in this country where the majority of these can potentially harm consumers. That number needs to be drastically reduced, and we need to reopen discussions surrounding e.g. irradiation of foods where the consumer can choose. We need to make food safer, and we do. A lot of progress has already been made, just not enough.

Then we need to go further with owners personal liabilities. If I see what happened with the PBA case, now the egg case. I think people running these organizations need to be held accountable. Not only with the assets of their organizations. I can understand that even the best prevention methods can fail, but in these cases I think we should sue them for criminal negligent homicide if deaths have been caused. I don’t think that there is any difference between these people and people that kill a person while driving under the influence and running a red-light.

Traceability systems from a food safety perspective are like airbags in our car. The best option is to avoid the accident: better roads that allow us circumvent a hazard, better driver education, better signage, better traffic rules and of course the corresponding enforcement of these rules. Only if all these preventive methods fail, we want to rely on the secondary safety systems, such as the steel bars in our doors, the safety belt and the airbag.

If you keep the analogy going, you come to the point that we may need to mandate certain consumer behavior. Most states in the US require wearing mandatory seatbelts and helmets. I guess the equivalent in food would be that we mandate thorough cooking of certain foods, such as burgers. That should not meant that the food industry is relieved from its duty to provide safe foods, it just means that they consumer would share responsibility in cases of irresponsible behavior.

Stalling of s.510 also means that other benefits of food traceability systems will be pushed even further back, such as the backing of attributes on the package using traceability systems. The market for that will develop slower, since we do not mandate the basic plumbing necessary for it.

Another big problem is the shared responsibilities in the food supply between FDA and USDA. It took a 9/11 to recognize similar mistakes in our countries safety, the foundation of the department of homeland security and consolidating all resources in one department. A similar step is needed for our food supply, and this one is barely being discussed. We will keep running into incidents, where and overlap of responsibilities makes nobody really accountable.

All in all I’m done with it for now. Too many issues, not the right things being done and those things that are being done happen at snail’s pace. I’m frustrated following the discussions mostly lead by technology providers, with little participation of the industry and even less participation of legislators. This will be my last post on traceability. From next week on, I will go back and write more about the aspects of business applications, back to the original title of this blog.


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