The Global Food Traceability Centre recently released a new report in the ‘Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety Journal’ outlining the importance of ensuring that the global food chain maintains its traceability, authenticity and transparency. With several food related crisis’ occurring in recent years, including the highly controversial horse meat scandal of 2013 which still rages on, UK consumers are becomingly increasingly suspicious and sceptical about what is in their food and who they can trust. Customer loyalty is often irreparably damaged when companies are unable to account for the origin and source of their produce. As the world becomes smaller, it has become even more essential for us to work together to ensure such scandals do not occur again.
The report sets out to compare and evaluate trends in the traceability regulations of 21 different countries participating in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Such countries include the UK, Australia, New Zealand, China and the United States. A positive find for the UK is that the European Union was found to lead the way, ranking highest in adhering to standards, regulations and requirements relating to global food traceability. Europe’s high ranking can be interpreted in one of two ways. Firstly as a hugely positive statistic indicating our innovative ability to adhere to standards that benefit the food industry. Secondly, given our recent history of unpleasant media revelations surrounding food fraud, if we lead the way, what does that say about the countries behind us?
The research highlights the importance of the global market continuing to operate to a high standard, enabling companies, businesses and customers to authentically trace where their produce is coming from. Although there are numerous benefits to global, international trading, the repercussions and ramifications of such a sprawling system are now widely known. Due to the expanse of the market it can seem impossible to adequately trace where produce is coming from. This becomes especially problematic when threats of airborne illnesses, animal and plant diseases and product recalls occur. When the system works well, it is an efficient, fast way to distribute produce across the globe. When it fails, it can be dangerous and reputation crippling.
All countries that participate in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development were ranked by authors of the journal based on their answers to specific questions illuminating their traceability programmes and policies. Such questions included querying whether or not regulations applied to imported products, the necessary documentation required for imported produce and whether or not an electronic database existed for traceability. The questions were designed to understand how each company operates with regards to standards to see where loose links in the chain may be identified. Additionally, there was a goal to set standards to unify all countries under the umbrella of globally acknowledged principles and values.
The EU and all of its member countries were ranked as superior within the global market whilst Japan, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil were rated as average. China was rated as poor thanks to the underdevelopment of its traceability system as it is at present largely unregulated. No accurate reading was able to be sourced from the Russian Federation owing to the provision of limited information.
The importance of unifying all countries and bringing them up to scratch to ensure that there are no weak links in the chain is an essential aspect of the food safety process. In doing so, compliance will be improved, illnesses that travel alongside food can be traced before they are able to leave their territory and countries can protect one another from food fraud and disease. Although Europe is presently the frontrunner, we should still all work together in order to maintain and preserve our status in the food safety arena – and with horse gate not far behind us we still have a long way to go.