Food Traceability in Asia: Striving for Safer Supply Chains

As global supply chains become increasingly complex, the ability to track a single product or ingredient from field to shelf has become a priority for millions of businesses.

This week, FIA caught up with Mr Patrik Jonasson, Director of Public Policy for Asia-Pacific at GS1, to discuss Asia’s food traceability challenges and how the food industry can help boost the safety of food supply chains across the region. GS1 is an independent, non-profit organisation that develops and maintains standards for supply and demand chains across multiple sectors, including the food and beverage industry. In speaking to FIA, Jonasson highlighted the lack of integrated product identification systems in Asia and called for the development of information-sharing systems to improve record keeping. He also conveyed the untapped potential for business-to-business smartphone applications to support traceability solutions. Jonasson encouraged industry to reach common agreements on minimum traceability requirements by sector, suggesting this would help improve business prospects across markets.

What are the key challenges that need to be addressed in Asia in terms of food traceability?

Basic product identification is a challenge in the region, as many products are still not identified by the barcode number. At the logistics unit level there is a general lack of synchronisation as many traders still use their own internal systems rather than global standards. This leads to a lack of good documentation throughout the supply chain. Keeping records,which is a key component of traceability, has not been a focus in this region.

The GS1 system comprises of GS1 barcodes and identification keys, and enables traceability throughout cross-border food supply chains. Our system ensures traceability, interoperability and cost-saving in the movement of goods as well as the traceability information that follows because the recipient just needs to automatically scan the products. On the other hand, if a Chinese supplier who does not use the GS1 system exports to a New Zealand who does, for example, the New Zealand company receiving the goods would have to either capture the information into the system's format or re-label it to have it automated.

Furthermore, many food companies in Asia still do not implement basic traceability principles. This is in contrast to Europe, where traceability is a mandatory requirement through Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP). In many markets in Asia, HACCP is generally not a mandatory requirement for companies operating locally, resulting in a lax in most basic traceability requirements. Nevertheless, segmented record keeping is not only happening in Asia but in supply chains worldwide. To address this, we should be working together to develop well-functioning, integrated systems where information can be shared. This does not mean that all information has to be shared with all trading partners, but only the essentials such as product name, unique product identification, batch/lot, origin, date of manufacture and allergenic components where it could be important in a product recall or in an investigation of a product safety issue.

To what degree are new ICT measures being implemented in Asia?

The application of ICT solutions for traceability in Asia is still fragmented. There is great potential for business to business use of smartphones in food supply chain traceability, including the opportunity to facilitate the automation of business processes, but there is currently more of a focus on consumer than business applications for smartphones. Smaller retailers in Asia could use smart phones to confirm the receipt of goods to ensure a minimum level of traceability. Unfortunately, we are seeing slower levels of advancement when it comes to electronic communication to improve traceability, however the Electronic Product Code Information System (EPCIS) which improves efficiency and supply chain visibility has great potential.

Given the increased complexity of today's global supply chain, what are some of the emerging solutions in technology to improve the efficiency of recalls?

Our system can make product recall a more targeted process. We can also ensure that the recall notification reaches the right consumers faster, as companies can trace who has received the product throughout the supply chain. When companies know where their goods are and who has received them, the process to withdraw them from the market is much faster.

From GS1’s point of view, the ideal solution to improve efficiency in recall would be through the implementation of GS1 standards for traceability using the fundamental concepts of: Identify – Capture - Share.

This process involves the identification of products with a global trade item number (GTIN), locations with a global location number (GLN), and logistics units with the GS1 logistics label. Alongside the sharing of information through an electronic communication dispatch advice, an emerging solution involves going to physical event data collection through Electronic Product Code Information Service (EPCIS). The EPCIS gives granular information in real time and improved supply chain visibility. However, the current low level of automation in Asia makes implementation of this process a challenge.

We also have to keep the costs in mind, especially among smaller suppliers in Asia. It should be noted that while adopting global standards can push up operational cost in the short term, potential export markets such as Europe and the US have high demands for these systems to be in place.

What initiatives has GS1 helped develop to boost capabilities in traceability in food supply chains?

In Asia-Pacific we support groupings such as the APEC Business Advisory Council to work with governments on the increased use of private sector supply chain standards in cross-border processes. We believe that these standards would help improve full supply chain traceability and also give governments in the region greater tools to quickly and efficiently carry out recalls, even in multiple legal jurisdictions. The APEC region represents around 50% of global trade flows - if we can incorporate traceability functions in the supply chains of this region it will make a significant difference on a global scale.Moreover, the process is win-win as it adds value to government, the private sector and consumers. We are convinced that wide-scale adoption of these functions would be a breakthrough for improved trade facilitation, lower costs in the supply chain and improved consumer safety.

Another initiative is the GS1 Global Traceability Programme, a capacity building programme for industry via our local organisations which leverages best practices and expertise around the world. So far, we have trained staff from 63 countries and have traceability experts from 30 countries. These traceability experts independently assess traceability systems and give support and advice on implementation.

How can the industry best support capacity building efforts in food traceability in the region?

It would be ideal to see global and regional industry working groups on traceability, such as those managed by trade organisations and private sector groupings, reaching the point of a common agreement on minimum traceability requirements for each sector. A more common industry approach to meeting traceability requirements would provide improved business opportunities in various markets.

Perhaps the most important role of industry is for companies that have implemented best practices in traceability to transfer knowledge to enterprises that could use the assistance. These industry players could share their case studies to help smaller companies to locally implement traceability requirements. We need to find platforms to better share the experience of industry leaders who have utilised and adopted global standards to achieve end-to-end traceability.

About GS1

GS1 is a not-for-profit international organisation that develops and maintains standards for supply and demand chains across multiple sectors. With local member organisations in 110 countries, GS1 works with communities of trading partners, industry organisations, governments and technology providers to encourage the adoption and implementation of global standards.

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