California citrus shippers are complying with the Produce Traceability Initiative and now want to make sure everyone else is still on board.

Officials at the Exeter-based group said citrus shippers representing more than 75% of the tree crop base are able to satisfy customer needs regarding the Produce Traceability Initiative.

Now it’s time for the PTI Leadership Council to push for industry-wide implementation said Joel Nelsen, California Citrus Mutual president.

A concern is that the estimated $15 million to $20 million investment in PTI by California citrus shippers will be meaningless if the project is abandoned, Nelsen said. California citrus leaders last year asked the PTI Leadership Council to delay the milestone for labeling cartons from the end of 2011 until July of this year, but the request was turned down.

“We complied with the request of the PTI Leadership Council but so far we have nothing to show for it,” Nelsen said.

Nelsen said citrus shippers expect the PTI to insure that buyers and other commodity groups are on their way to implementing PTI,

“The last thing we want is a variety of traceability programs and demands coming from our customers,” Nelsen said.

While the PTI Leadership Council is supposed to create uniformity on traceability through the industry, Nelsen said it appears few companies have achieved all of the milestones to date. Retailers continue to express interest in PTI but none have implemented it yet​, Nelsen said.

“The Leadership Council can’t seem to get the industry as a whole to adhere to their deadlines and that is just wrong,” Nelsen said.

The final milestone is at the end of the year. At that point, produce industry operators are supposed to have systems in place to read and store information on outbound cases.

The extent of current produce industry implementation of PTI is not known, said Dan Vache, vice president for supply chain management for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C. A survey is now being developed to determine what companies are doing to comply with the initiative, Vache said. He believes momentum is increasing, though some operators may wait until an FDA-sponsored pilot project on tomato traceability is completed before proceeding.

Nelsen said the Leadership Council is dominated by customers, and those buyers aren’t in position to meet the deadlines.

“They are asking everyone else to follow it, but they are not yet following it,’ he said. Nelsen said that will lead to other commodity groups to lose interest. “So what was once a good idea has bifurcated into what is an expensive business proposition for my ​industry,” he said.

Vache said suppliers who have been pressed by their buyers to comply with PTI or risk losing business should also ask those buyers about their own progress with PTI.

“You should be free to ask if buyers are recording and storing the information on all cases that (they) receive that have a PTI compliant label on them,” Vache said. “That’s just a fair question to ask.”