Food industry updates traceability standard

Can-Trace has released a new set of food traceability guidelines designed to be more inclusive to the industry as a whole, from mom-and-pop grocers to mega-chains like Wal-Mart.

The original version of the Canadian Food Traceability Data Standard was released in December 2004. Earlier this week, Can-Trace, the organization behind the standard, issued an updated version based on industry feedback.

Some data collection requirements were changed and some of the terminology was simplified. The latest version also makes it easier for more organizations at the producer end of the food chain to comply with its requirements.

“It’s really difficult to make that fit, but Can-Trace has worked very hard ensuring that all users of the standard are taken into consideration,” said David Rideout, Can-Trace’s chairman and executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance.

“It’s been developed with a broad spectrum of users in mind and with solid technical advice from those users, so hopefully it’s valuable to people. Anybody who wants to use it can use it,” he said.

The data collection requirements are such that they can met with any level of technology, he added: “anything from pen and paper right up through RFID.”

The standard is voluntary. Rideout did not have any information about the number of Canadian food producers and sellers that are complying with it, but said it’s in their best interests for them to meet the standard.

Several years ago, the federal government set a target for 80 per cent of the Canadian food industry to meet traceability requirements “from gate to plate” by 2008. It has since adjusted that ideal, said Dan Lutz, director of integrated traceability for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“While the target served to bring some attention to traceability, when you started to look at the details, it didn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. For example, a more rigourous traceability standard needs to be applied to livestock than, say, dry goods.

In June of this year, federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers met at their annual conference in St. John’s, Nlfd. They determined that a “National Agriculture and Food Traceability System” applicable to all livestock and poultry should be phased in and agreed to create an advisory group of government and industry professionals to develop an implementation plan.

To a very large degree, the cattle industry is already self-regulating, said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, and maintains strictures above and beyond any existing government requirements.

“We’ve tried to stay ahead of the government on this issue. We asked them to make a mandatory system for identification,” he said.

The cattle industry in Canada is currently in the midst of a transition from bar code technology to RFID tags to track the movement of livestock, particular at points where it changes hands. It could take up to two years to manage the technology transition, said Laycraft, given the amount of testing that is required.

“As you handle livestock and handle this equipment, it requires lots of field testing to make sure you have a very good, reliable, practical system,” he said. “We want to make sure that before any animal is processed it’s healthy and ready for the food supply.”

Rideout said that the Can-Trace initiative is designed to take into account every aspect of Canadian food production and delivery, but acknowledged that some portions of the industry would have more use for it than others. While livestock producers adhere to their own guidelines, others may find the standard useful, particularly as large operators like Wal-Mart continue to step up their demands on suppliers.

“You’ve got some major corporations saying . . . ‘We’re not going to buy anything unless it’s radio-frequency identified,’” he said. “What we’re saying to the industry . . . is, ‘Look, here’s a standard that you can use.’”

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