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Farm Foundation’s Traceability and Assurance Panel Report

Concerns about food safety and food security are focusing more attention on traceability and quality assurance in today’s global food system. In its tradition of working to help private and public-sector decision makers examine issues impacting the future of agriculture and the food system, Farm Foundation brought together commodity, agribusiness and government leaders from the grain and meat sectors to examine traceability and quality assurance in the food system.

As pressure increases for the U.S. food system to initiate or enhance traceability and quality assurance practices, important questions are being raised about why such systems are needed, the potential challenges of implementation and the consequences for the respective food chain participants.

In its report, the  Farm Foundation’s Traceability and Assurance Panel outlined key issues and challenges traceability and quality assurance present to a global food system. Panel members debated several approaches to challenges facing the industry. However, they were in full agreement that one of the issues facing U.S. industry and government decision makers is that from a regulatory and supply chain perspective, one size does not fit all. Traceability systems and information needed in the livestock industry, for example, will differ substantially from those appropriate to the grain industry.

USDA agencies have for a century aided market processes and provided oversight through a regulatory approach that was not intended to distinguish differences in size of operations or strategic objectives. The more specialized, differentiated characteristics of today?s domestic and international food systems reduces the practicality of a commodity-based infrastructure. ?The greatest challenge to implementing traceability and assurance systems may be adjusting a century-old public-private partnership that has been extremely successful using a ?one-size-fits-all? paradigm,? the Panel concludes.

Existing food safety and assurance protocols, such as HACCP and ISO 9000, have the potential to provide an umbrella framework for the diversity of public and private market needs to implement traceability and assurance systems, the Panel notes. The issues that could be addressed through these frameworks range from food safety contamination and identifying inefficiencies in the supply chain, to documenting the integrity of extrinsic characteristics, such as animal welfare or environmental responsibility.

The use of science to underlie market oversight was unanimously supported by the Panel. There was recognition, however, that consumer food choices are influenced by many factors other than science.

The Panel noted that biosecurity concerns increase the complexity of the traceability and assurance debate. However, biosecurity may bring clarity to understanding of the difference between prevention of a problem and containment, should a problem arise.

An executive summary of the report is available, as well as the full report.

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