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    Produce Traceability Initiative Update

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. Bob, PMA and United Fresh have just published results of an industry survey fielded in December, that benchmarked the status of PTI implementation and gathered input on issues, concerns, and needs for the PTI Steering Committee to consider. Can you tell us more about it?

    Julia, we received 263 responses from across the supply chain, with a majority of respondents hailing from the “sell” side – growers, packer/shippers and marketers. They told us that industry awareness of the PTI is very high (at over 80 percent), and three-quarters of them told us they have accessed the PTI Web site and all its tools and information. Seventy percent report they are planning to implement the PTI action plan, and more than half report they are on target to meet the milestones. We’ve posted a summary of the research on the PTI Web site on the “Resources & Tools” page.

    We also asked respondents to tell us what concerns and issues they are facing. No surprise, their top concern was cost – for example the cost of obtaining a company prefix, as well as hardware, software and other logistics expenses – and of course return on investment. They also noted a perceived lack of clear commitment across the supply chain— in other words, they don’t think their competitors or even their buyers will do their part. They also told us they are concerned about the uncertainty being introduced by pending government regulation, and some questioned the need for PTI above and beyond what they already have in place.

    As for what to take away from the survey, we clearly heard the industry’s need for “more” – more communication, more education, more transparency, and more chain-wide commitment.

    The PTI Steering Committee, under the leadership of Food Lion’s Cathy Green, met in February. Did they consider what the industry told us in this survey?

    Yes, the Steering Committee along with the administering associations heard the industry loud and clear.  The Steering Committee and the implementing associations are still committed to the goal of chainwide, electronic traceability – today’s status quo is not a long-term option.  That said, we are currently working on improvements on several fronts, including revamping the PTI governance. We’re looking at who’s involved to ensure we can effect real change and meet industry’s needs, as well as how often the governance group meets. In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have deactivated the Steering Committee after releasing the action plan in August 2008 — there is clearly still a role for a strong, active governance group.

    Additionally, we’re considering how to improve the group’s transparency with the industry, and how our technical working groups can better meet industry’s needs for more information and tools. To help on that end, PMA has just hired Ed Treacy as our new vice president of supply chain efficiencies – Ed brings tremendous industry experience in logistics to this effort.

    I know we’re planning to have Ed on Ask Dr. Bob soon, our listeners can learn more about him then.

    That’s right, he’ll join us for a post soon.

    We’re also getting GS1 US more involved, their team brings a lot to the table, too. We will also be providing more communications and education, to ensure we’re providing the tools and information needed by industry to get this job done. For example, PMA, CPMA and United Fresh just met with industry association executives at United Fresh’s convention in Las Vegas, and that was a good dialogue.

    The PTI solution really is the optimal solution out there today, because it overlays each company’s internal traceability systems rather than trashing them and requiring a complete start-over. I know there is ROI to be had from it, too. Historically, many produce companies have used different electronic tracking formats to reduce shrink and better manage their inventories – and certainly we see the same possible advantages with PTI applications. Ideally, implementing the PTI should also help narrow the scope of recalls to just the affected lots, and not a company’s entire inventory – that has tremendous cost savings.

    Bottom line is, chainwide, electronic traceability must and will happen, and it is in our industry’s best interest to drive that train rather than be driven – or get run over. For those members who are waiting to find out what the federal government is going to do, keep this in mind about how legislation and regulation work: Congress and FDA will only tell us what to do – they won’t tell us specifically how to do it, that’s not how they work. So, in fact we already know that PTI implementation does not conflict with anything coming down the pike from Congress or FDA. 

    Thanks, Bob. So at this point, we want our members to know they are being heard, and improvements are coming including more opportunities to get involved – given how important this topic is, that’s news everyone can appreciate. In the meantime, PMA remains committed to helping the entire industry implement effective and workable chainwide, electronic traceability. As always, for more information check out all the resources on the PTI Web site at www.producetraceability.org.

    If you’d like to communicate with Dr. Bob, you can email him at AskDrBob@pma.com; you can also post comments about this and other Ask Dr. Bob posts on the blog Web site, at askdrbob.pma.com. Please send us your ideas for future blog posts, we look forward to that. Thanks for joining us this time, until next time, goodbye!

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