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Steering committee discusses new ways to promote Produce Traceability Initiative

by Joan Murphy | February 23, 2010
WASHINGTON -- The produce industry may start promoting high-level executive buy-in to accelerate adoption of its Produce Traceability Initiative, one of several issues discussed Feb. 19 during a meeting of the initiative's steering committee.

More than 50 members of the steering committee met in Dallas to discuss results of a survey conducted by the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association in recent months to gauge the produce industry's progress in meeting the milestones for chainwide traceability.

"The intent of our meeting was to measure PTI progress, identify and prioritize issues facing us, and discuss plans to address these," Cathy Green of Food Lion, who is chairman of the steering committee, said in a Feb. 22 press release. "We focused strongly on feedback received from industry surveys, from other committee members and from our own experience over the past 18 months. As the leader of a supermarket company committed to PTI, I found it very gratifying to hear for myself that other committee members are also moving forward to meet the milestones established in the PTI plan."

However, the groups have yet to make public results of the survey completed in January on the industry's progress in adopting a voluntary industry traceability program.

"It was a very forward-thinking discussion, and the steering committee unanimously reaffirmed PTI as the right way to go," said Julia Stewart, public relations director at PMA.

During the Feb. 19 meeting, GS1 US presented a summary of its new Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative, a similar whole-chain tracing program. The initiative is striving for 75 percent adoption of GS1 standards throughout the foodservice industry, measured in terms of revenue, by 2015, according to the company's web site.

That foodservice initiative has moved "remarkably quickly" because of widespread support from chief executive officers in foodservice companies, and industry representatives heard the message, said Ms. Stewart. "Because CEOs say 'Do it,' it's getting done."

The business environment has changed since the initiative was launched, and there must be "more senior executive engagement as well as better ongoing communication and education outreach" to move the initiative forward, said Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO of PMA.

GS1 US has signed on to play a greater role in PTI, though its role has yet to be determined. GSI US can reach more industry members and provide technical assistance, according to Ms. Stewart.

Still, cost and the uncertainty of new federal traceability requirements remain major challenges for companies to move beyond the one-step-forward, one- step-back traceability systems required by the Bioterrorism Act.

"With the hard work of implementing these traceability steps well underway, the complexity and cost of this effort is proving challenging to many companies," said Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh. "The steering committee candidly discussed the need for greater stakeholder involvement across the industry, a clearer understanding of the most cost- effective strategies for addressing each milestone, and a focus on ensuring that PTI results in the ability to more narrowly define future recalls and produces a real [return on investment] for the industry."