Here is more from the Dec. 10 traceability meeting held jointly by USDA and FDA; the remarks of Kathy Means of the Produce Marketing Association.


MS. MEANS:
Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to be here. I am Kathy Means with PMA. We represent the entire fresh produce supply chain from field to fork, including both restaurants and retailers. I want to talk a little bit about the Produce Traceability Initiative and how it applies to our conversations here. You're going to hear a lot of the same things that you've been hearing for the last day and a half so far You can see the mission there. It's to get whole chain traceability because we know we have internal traceability. Companies have that.

We've heard that from a variety of speakers that companies can trace their products within their four walls. Now, how do we link what's done within those four walls and then this company within its four walls? That's external traceability, how we pull those all together. And that's what gives us whole chain traceability. Dozens of buyers and suppliers have endorsed the Produce Traceability Initiative. It was created by industry for industry to provide a workable solution for a real world need. So that's just a little bit of the background. There's a lot more at producetraceability.org if you need more information.

We can see a path forward that can be both effective and efficient, something that uses existing global, market-proven standards, which is the GS1 standards. Again, those have been mentioned quite a bit in this particular public meeting. It uses existing technologies, barcodes. Who doesn't know about barcodes?

So we don't have to reinvent something there. Uses existing information. These are pieces of information that are required by the Bioterrorism Act that are needed for any companies records so that they can invoice for product they've sold, so that they can pay for product they've purchased. There's a whole lot of information that companies keep regularly. We just need to be able to put it together in the right package. It augments, but does not replace, internal systems.

 So many of the internal traceability systems are tied into accounts receivable, payable, inventory control, things like that. So you don't want to have to reinvent all of that. The GS1 standards are used in 150 countries, and they address that need for global application that we've heard about as well. The produce industry is a global industry, and that's not going to change unless we all want to give up  bananas. So that's just not going to happen.

The PTI protocols enable interoperability between trading partners without requiring expensive and unnecessary changes to existing internal business processes. So what are some of the key components within the PTI? We have unique identifiers. They're both in a human readable format, which is the numbers, and I'll show you a picture of them soon, but you can imagine them, and electronic, the barcode. They connect each link in the supply chain. It's a common system that everyone can use. It's not proprietary. It allows automation and eliminates manual activity, increases productivity, and ensures consistency. It allows database storage.

We've heard a lot about that today, about making sure that's electronic, that this information is around so that it can be pulled back out because with produce, which is one of the poster children for food safety, the product is almost always gone by the time you get the outbreak identified and move into a recall. It allows for quick access and analysis and can be extrapolated to other food industry. We have been talking with other perishable food industries, and there may be some applications of a similar system to them, which is important when you get to the purchasing side, the buyers, food service, and retail.

They're not going to want to have this system for produce and this system for dairy and this system for meat and this system for something else. That just becomes very unworkable. So we need systems that work together, especially when we get down toward the buying side. This is one of the labels. You can see on the left-hand side is the GTIN, global trade item number, that was discussed earlier, and the lot number over there on the right.

You can see the human readable numbers, should somebody need that, and the barcode that can be used and, of course, we still want to let people know more easily what's in the box, Valencia oranges, 10 4-pound bags are in that particular case. And the PTI does operate at the case level. And that's very important for a reason I'll get into in just a moment. When we take that GTIN number that we just saw, this is how it works. It's very simple. It's one step up, one step down, and if everybody is keeping these records electronically, then we can easily move through the supply chain.

The produce industry has a very complex supply chain. Sure, sometimes you've got a grower delivering to a grocery store, but most of the time, it's going through many different links in the supply chain. So the producer assigns the GTIN and the lot number, they record that, they send it to the processor or packer who also records it, and then if they do something with it to change what's inside that case, they assign a different GTIN that is linked within their system to the originating one. So the product coming in the back door is linked to the product going out the front door, and it works that way then all the way through the distribution system. So what about databar?

 This is what used to be called RSS, and a lot of people have talked about item level traceability, and we've heard about some systems where consumers can take a code and go on the internet and find out who grew the product, and that's great. There's nothing wrong with those kinds of systems. A lot of people are using them. You're probably seeing them in your grocery store, the symbols like these on the screen. This tells you a little bit about it. These in particular are apple ones.

 So it's a great idea, but it doesn't work for traceability because it skips all of the links in between the producer and the consumer. And here's the example of how that works. The producer assigns that. They put the sticker on the apple. The apple goes in a case. It is now in a case, and no one can see it throughout the entire distribution chain. As we've heard from other speakers, you can have a problem at any link in the distribution chain. So you want to be able to have traceability that identifies every step that the product took. With item level traceability, we lose that  because it is in a case.

So only the consumer and the producer ever really see that particular code. So why should we go ahead with PTI? It uses common global standards. That's been a consistent theme throughout time here today, common information, common technologies. It is expensive. There's no question, and that expense is tied less to the size of your company and more to the sophistication of your company. You can be a small company with great computer systems, and it's not going to cost you as much as perhaps a medium sized company that doesn't have as sophisticated technology. So it is expensive, but it is less expensive than other options out there

 As I mentioned, there's interest from other perishables groups. So perhaps we've got something that can work across other commodities. Traceability must apply to everybody. We can't have any holes in the safety net, and I want to stress, this is an ongoing developmental process. We continue to evaluate it as people are putting   different milestones into place and adjust as needed.  And I believe that's it