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Farm Foundation's Traceability and Assurance Panel Report

Farm Foundation's
Traceability and Assurance Panel

Panel Report: Traceability, quality
assurance issues require flexibility

OAK BROOK, IL July 23, 2004 : 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 a report released today, Farm Foundation?s Traceability and Assurance Panel outlines 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.

The Panel?s report is intended to aid informed decision-making in both the public and private sectors. ?Farm Foundation brought together industry leaders from throughout the grain and meat supply chains to define the forces driving adoption of traceability and assurance systems, and study the implications for various sectors of the U.S. food system,? explains Farm Foundation President Walter Armbruster.

?Food traceability and assurance represents a fundamental change in the relationships between market participants,? note Eluned Jones of Texas A&M University , and DeeVon Bailey of Utah State University , who coordinated the work of the Panel.

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 notes 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. ?Decision makers must consider the financial and technical trade-offs in assessing the probability of a negative event occurring, leading to the strategic objective of preventing the event versus rapidly containing the outcome,? the Panel notes.

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

Click here for earlier press releases on the panel?s work.

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