Momentum is growing for Australian fruit and vegetable growers to adopt an international electronic labelling standard for data exchange and improved supply chain traceability.
Cedar Creek Company is a partner of GS1 Australia. GS1 Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that locally administers a global multi-industry standard of identification and communication for products and services, is rolling out a new family of bar codes that will improve how fresh produce is tracked within the supply chain along with many other benefits.
Previously known as Reduced Space Symbology (RSS) bar codes, GS1 has renamed the coding system, GS1 Databar, to minimise confusion with Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds now available from web sites.
There are several types of GS1 Databar bar codes, which will enable more information to be recorded about the produce than is possible than with the current four digit Price Look Up (PLU) codes. The bar code is small enough to fit on the conventional stickers applied to many fruit items in particular.
GS1 Databar is capable of identifying and tracing individual pieces of produce from packhouse to retailer, and when a batch number is incorporated into on-farm systems, from harvest to retailer.
These new barcodes have not yet been introduced within Australian horticulture, although approximately 100 Coles stores across Australia already have the hardware in place to read Databar.
Due to legislation such as the US Bioterrorism Act of 2002, which followed the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, and similar legislation in Europe, traceability systems of a higher level of sophistication to anything seen in Australia are being introduced into these countries.
GS1 Databar is taking off in the US. US retailing companies Wal-Mart and Loblaws are rolling out GS1 Databar with their suppliers.
In the recent move, the Dutch Produce Association (DPA), which represents 98% of Dutch fruit and vegetable production, has announced that as of October this year pallet labels and packaging notes will be printed according to the GS1 standard.
Richard Bennett at Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) is the Chairman of AusPIC, the industry produce identification committee, which consists of representatives of growers, category managers, wholesalers and retailers.
Richard Bennett said that manual traceability systems began more than 10 years ago in Australia. “The industry and retailers also use a system of PLU codes, which are on the familiar labels consumers see on loose produce such as apples, oranges and kiwi fruit,” said Richard Bennett.
“The codes on these labels, when keyed in at the point of sale, identify the produce as a medium Pink Lady apple, for example, the terminal contains the price per kilogram and calculates the sale price,” he said.
“This enables outlets to manage their inventory. Prices and produce are keyed in at the start of the day when a consignment arrives. The information can be used to re-order stock and measure sales.
“However, loose fresh produce progress through a checkout register is relatively slow because the information needs to be manually input and there is a higher chance of human error. Picture a bag of tomatoes compared to a can of soup.
“Increased consumer demand for more information about food purchases and where the food has originated is a big part of the push for ever greater levels of traceability.
“The 2006 salmonella scare allegations in the rockmelon industry highlighted the difficulties in tracing produce after it was repacked and rehandled a number of times.
“It was not always possible to identify the packhouse or supplier of particular produce at the retail end of the chain. In addition, the journey from the paddock to the packhouse was not always easily traceable.
“Collectively, the industry needs to bite the bullet and introduce the new systems. That’s not to take anything away from those packhouse managers who are already doing a brilliant job with a manual system or with one of the many computer-based systems available.
“Better businesses are already creating improved internal efficiencies by combining production, consignment, invoicing and other activities to their traceability system.
“By using GS1 standards businesses will be able to increase their internal capability and supply chain visibility.
“In Australia the aim is to introduce GS1 Databar by 2010 across the horticulture and many other industries. However, nobody is underestimating the size of the job to do this.”
Richard Bennett said a number of local software developers and solution providers were available to growers with at least four companies in Shepparton alone.
A national company and Growcom corporate member, Cedar Creek, says traceability systems can provide the grower with:
- Improved payment schedules, matched to product quality
- Market impact information
- Better planning matched to market forecasts and or order requirements
- Capacity to add value to other parts of the supply chain by sharing information
- Multiple use of information for a number of purposes: pack house management, quality assurance, supply chain management, production feedback, compliance and consumer feedback
- Improved consumer confidence through the assurance of quality and safety
Cedar Creek CEO Tony Abbott said that traceability using this system enabled businesses to trace backwards to identify the origin of product and to facilitate its recall when food safety and quality standards are breached.
“The GS1 system gives you confidence to say: yes, there was a problem in a particular batch of food and we can trace that back to where it came from and also forward to where associated batches may have gone.”
Richard Bennett and GS1 Australia are seeking interest from major producers, particularly those supplying an export market such as the USA, to conduct a pilot project with the GS1 Databar technology. An industry pilot is likely to be established in 2009.