Traceability, as defined by the International Standard of Organization (ISO): The ability to identify and trace the history, distribution, location, and application of products, parts and materials.
Traceability, as defined by the United Nations Global Compact: The ability to identify and trace the history, distribution, location, and application of products, parts and materials, to ensure the reliability of sustainability claims, in the areas of human rights, labor (including health and safety), the environment, and anti-corruption.
Which definition do you use as your guide when it comes to traceability?
The 21st-century answer amongst consumers and businesses alike is increasingly the UN’s.
True traceability is meant to hold players along a product supply chain, including yourself, accountable for what takes place. If your supply chain is fraught with sustainability issues or labor violations, low-quality goods or unsafe production practices – and these instances get brought to public attention – big or small, your business’ reputation is at risk.1
Before we go further into traceability, it is important to define some key global data points. Why? It is difficult to understand the growing demand for traceability without exampling the mass migration of goods first.
Food Traceability & Global Trade
For the last 20 years at least, the United States has remained the world’s largest exporter of agricultural goods – the 3rd most globally traded commodity – as well as the world’s second-largest importer of agricultural goods. In 2017, the United States agricultural exports reached $122 billion in value, and agricultural imports reached $101 billion.2
Essentially, much of the world’s agricultural supply relies on the United States, and the United States relies on much of the world for agricultural supply.
We often hear the term “agricultural” and associate ranches, fields, bales of hay, and cattle. But when it comes to global trade, agricultural products are only one high-level commodity category for commodities intended for human consumption. Others include, but are not limited to: Cereals, Dairy, Eggs, Honey, Fish, Aquatic Resources, Horticulture, Meat, Oilseeds, Sugar, Tobacco, Spices, and Stimulants. Agricultural products also include plant-based goods, animal fat, animal skins, and so on.3
So, when you apply the true definition of “agricultural products” to U.S. import and export values, you can see how greatly we rely on agricultural trade.
The United States & Global Agricultural Trade (Annually, 2017 – ResourceTrade.Earth)
- The U.S. imports the most vegetables – valued at $9.9 billion
- The most imported vegetable is the tomato
- The U.S. imports the most fruit – valued at $17 billion
- The most imported fruit is the banana
- The U.S. is the second-highest exporter of wheat – valued at $6.7 billion
- The U.S. exports the most corn/maize – valued at $10.8 billion
- The U.S. imports the most fish & aquatic products – valued at $7.3 billion
- The U.S. exports the most meat – valued at $16.6 billion
- Beef is the U.S.’s top exported AND imported meat
- The U.S. is the second-highest exporter of soybeans – valued at $26.3 billion
- Brazil is the world’s largest soybean exporter with a much more at-risk supply chain than the U.S.
- The U.S. imports the most coffee beans – valued at $6.3 billion
- The U.S. is the second-highest importer of cocoa – valued at $2.4 billion
- The U.S. is the second-highest importer of sugar cane – valued at $2.4 billion
- The U.S. imports the most live animals [bovine, sheep, swine, horses, etc.] – valued at $2.8 billion
The point? The global food supply chain is 100% interwoven. American farmers produce most of the soybeans China depends on for nutrition. Mexico supplies most of the bananas Americans eat or use in cooking. India is the world’s largest exporter of seafood – providing a source of nutrition to much of the world. And where does the United States get a majority of fresh and frozen crab? Canada. Indonesia exports the most palm oil, one of the most widely used oils in food production around the world, and at the same time, is a product of one of the most destructive supply chains to date.
Small food producers, processors, distributors, and retailers are involved in the global import-export of agricultural supply every day, and those not producing for a global scale, or even nationally are still responsible for the quality of goods that reach consumer tables.
As a small business owner, you alone can’t control traceability or sustainability issues on a global scale – however, you can control the quality of goods sold and much of your direct supply chain. With technology, data, and active planning, you can monitor the chain of custody, safety, and quality of raw materials and finished goods end-to-end – instilling operational transparency, providing company transparency, and ensuring safety for consumers and suppliers.
Food Traceability: The First Step
Technology and data are responsible for the information collected, analyzed, shared, and used in decision-making. Tracking the movement of your product or product components end-to-end on your supply chain would be nearly impossible to do so, accurately and efficiently, without a technological solution in place.
A food traceability solution enables the capture and exchange of data across your supply chain, providing an easy avenue for transparency and a sturdy foundation for enacting traceability. Unfortunately, without a software or service, it is nearly impossible to benefit from, much less capture, your supply chain data. If you aren’t ready for software yet, keep reading or bookmark this page so you know where to begin when it is time.
Food Traceability: Transparency Matters
The first step towards traceability for your business and supply chain is bringing transparency into your operations – for you, your employees, your suppliers, and your customers. Transparency and traceability are often used interchangeably – yet are not actually synonyms.
Transparency provides visibility into your supply chain management. By first determining the standards you would like for your business and your suppliers to stand up to, transparency ensures those standards are continuously upheld.
Transparency as a food producer, processor, supplier or distributor is the first step towards traceability. The initial set up gives your business an opportunity to verify supplier compliance, sustainable practices, social responsibility claims, and so on. If, through this initial investigation, you find suppliers in your chain with irresponsible or unethical business practices – you have the knowledge to help your supplier right their wrongs or to end the partnership.
The more transparent the origin and chain of custody for your goods become, the easier it is to relay this information to the customers, partners, board members, and any other agencies you deal with.
Food Traceability: Are You Accountable?
In the end, the global goal of traceability is to be able to hold major food and beverage players accountable before, during, and after the harvest and exchange of commodities. On a local business level, not a global scale, the purpose of traceability remains relatively the same, except businesses with a more local focus only require visibility within national borders. Nonetheless, traceability is incredibly important for more than just appeasing government regulators and being readily prepared for a recall.
For some businesses, the ability to prove the quality and point of origin for your product, such as white truffles, saffron, wagyu beef, can be a direct link to your business reputation. For others, specific ingredient component tracking – the ingredients used to make cookies, brewing a style of beer, or a creamy cheese – should be tracked from end-to-end of your supply chain to ensure quality for your customers, transparency for your business, and peace of mind for the public. And still, others deal mostly in the sale of a specific commodity, like malt, wheat, tomatoes or oysters – and end-to-end traceability can help ensure exported and imported goods were cleared and safe at the time the items left your custody.
Traceability is a key method for a business to be held accountable, because once a product leaves a farm, a warehouse, or a store – you can never be certain of what might take place after. Accountability protects consumers, laborers, businesses alike. Without it, operating a food or beverage operation with no traceability solution puts your business at risk financially and reputationally, as well as the public and your supply chain.
Food Traceability: Doing Your Part
Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for big and small food manufacturers, processors, and distributors – but food traceability software is a good place to start. Traceability coordination up and down a supply chain takes organization, visibility, and control, as well as a willingness to perform due diligence on the part of you and your suppliers.
Acctivate is a food traceability solution designed to provide small to mid-sized food and beverage manufacturers, processors, distributors, online retailers, and so on – an effective way to track, trace, and monitor components and finished goods from end-to-end of your supply chain. Through your own supplier research, you can store supplier information, certifications, any relevant data, within Acctivate for easy look-up and future use. Taking the time to learn about the Who, What, Where associated with your goods enables your business to claim transparency and other sustainability claims you make. With Acctivate, you can further back up your claims of transparency by recording any and all relevant details for monitoring, tracking, and tracing your goods.
One small business cannot ensure the safety, the ethics, or the sustainability of the entire global supply chain – that would take decades of dedicated, committed focus agreed upon by a significant portion of the world’s business community, and the world is just not there yet. You can, however, ensure to the best of your abilities, that your products meet the standard of your customers and your conscience.
Hopefully, ten years from now, more and more small businesses will take the steps to promote positive food traceability and sustainability across the globe. Until then, you’ve got Acctivate.