Q&A: The future of traceability


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
July 18, 2010

Globalization, food safety, illegal fishing and sustainability are just a handful of the elements boosting the need for tight traceability tools within the seafood supply chain.

Geir Myrold, head of the Nordic region for Norwegian technology firm TraceTracker, talked to SeafoodSource recently about the challenges of tracing seafood products from harvest to the consumer and the benefits that his company’s technology provides to seafood buyers.

TraceTracker is participating in the pilot project eTrace, which is using radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging technology to track fish in the European market. The thrust of the project is to test the feasibility of using an electronic product code standard called EPCIS in the seafood supply chain.

Partos: What does traceability mean to you?
Myrold: Traceability has no geographical boundaries. People put different emphasis on the subject and talk of both internal and external traceability. Internal is the process within an organization, from intake to shipment, whereas external traceability can be the steps between different operators involved in the chain.

Is traceability a tool to access markets and integral to value creation?
Some view traceability as a trade barrier, but it can rather be seen as an opportunity. It is my view that people were initially skeptical about the Internet. In fact, the Internet has provided an excellent opportunity to enable the small to look big. It’s the same for traceability: small firms can communicate their data digitally. Traceability is not a threat but an opportunity.

Seafood importers into Europe can use their traceability data to access the market. For example, we have operations in Kenya where we support local fisheries to improve their business models and gather traceability data for European markets.

Do more opportunities exist?
Traceability can offer a competitive advantage. The companies in the future that are open, transparent and fearless, and that anticipate changes, will be the winners. For example, in the future shoppers could have their profiles registered on their iPhone. Fish fingers in their packaged box could tell the shopper if, bearing in mind their allergies, they can eat them.

In the near future the consumer could hold up an iPhone to a salmon, and it will talk to him/her, tell the shopper which fisherman caught it, in which boat, in which ocean. The challenge is that parts of the journey may not be there, but what company wants to be the missing link? The technology is here today. It is a matter of more precise regulations and the uptake from the industry.

Where does RFID slot in?
RFID helps us to automate and is the biggest contrast today to pen and paper. It aids us only for the automatic reading, creating raw documentation that is taken into the computer and adapted.

A standardized way of exchanging the information between the actors is the way to achieve traceability. This is what the EPCIS standard is all about. The EU pilot project eTrace has set out to specify, develop and evaluate an electronic traceability system where different information sources related to food safety and suitable enterprise management systems are integrated with Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS), led by EPCglobal, a subscriber-driven organization established to create global standards for the EPCglobal network.

Seafood buyers can start to use this technology today by using the web-based service — EPCIS standards have software on the web. And it is affordable for small fishermen [and] big retailers. It is not the cost of the software but the extra preparation that is slowing down the ramp up of the market.

What are the key challenges facing traceability?
Traceability is only as strong as its weakest link. The missing, or weak, link is the challenge. There is no government in the world that can address traceability for all their food in their country. There is no country that does not import food. It is fundamental that global trade requires greater transparency on the flow of goods and supply chains.

And whatever the sector — seafood, aircrafts, electronics — traceability is about linking the documentation from value creation in each step in a chain.

How do you use seafood and traceability rules today?
We have observed a strong engagement in seafood and regulations, such as the recent EU rules that aim to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which included traceability targets. There are major steps forward in traceability.

A rapid response is everything when talking about information-based solutions. Society today expects data in seconds, not weeks. We are aiming for this level, and we have the technology to do it. The challenge going forward concerns the individual actors, preparing the data accordingly and internally for the overall ambition. Some companies are more proactive than others. Those who are proactive often want to been seen as the innovators in their industry, and these are not necessarily the big firms.

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