“We are going to create a more digital, traceable and safer food system.” says Frank Yiannis, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of the office of food policy and response. He also said they will implement this through the record keeping clause of the FSMA. So what are some of the aspects of this New Era of Food Safety? According to this public meeting, it is to achieve end to end, true farm to fork traceability to not only enhance response time to outbreaks, but to prevent them as well.
As it stands, current record keeping requires information down to the field that the crop is grown. Many regulators said the need to sift through unknown amounts of records is outdated and cumbersome. Riccardo Acolla with Ripe Technology suggests block chain to streamline all of these records. Blockchain creates a permanent shared record of every transaction among the supply chain. “Ripe.io provides a blockchain powered platform to access information on the origin, journey, and the quality of food…We believe that improved data access in such fragmented, complex, and in most cases, low trust environment is best achieved through a digital platform featuring blockchain technology at its core. The industry must accept that digitization is a necessary requirement.”
Now enter GS1 and the Avery Dennison Corporation, the largest manufacturer of UHF RFID in the world, they teamed up for the Leafy Green Traceability Pilot. Using the FDA’s pharmaceutical tacking system as a template, the combined the technology of blockchain and RFID to enable the digital to physical link as a way to trace outbreaks and improve response time. Ultimately they were successful, they mention however, that “notably the data that enabled each of the teams to independently and successfully identify the finished product purchased by the consumer is not currently captured by this template. This data included business intelligence such as sales data, stock rotation, inventory controls and delivery schedules. These were critical in bracketing the scope of the traceback.” We all know what that means, a future push to capture that information. So what does this mean for producers? Remember, as a grower we are the very beginning of this supply chain.
Many of the speakers at this meeting mentioned using IOT, the Internet Of Things. A network of physical objects, things that are embedded with sensors, software, and other tech. Many farmers are, or already have implemented various forms of this technology to help streamline their work and reduce water, fertilizer, and pesticide usage, track weather patterns and monitor the well being of their livestock. These are great tools and information for the farmer. However, the regulators, like Susan Mayne, are already asking, “how do we leverage them (large data mining) to protect consumers all over the world from unsafe food?” One option may be the collaboration between Walmart and IBM. They have come together to build a blockchain based network called The IBM Food Trust. They already have more than 170 global brands feeding them information, and have been urging all of their suppliers to join the food trust and supply IOT readings. It’s not a far stretch to see that down the road, this will be a requirement if suppliers want Walmart to sell their goods.
So the FDA’s blue print of implementation was released in January of this year. You’ll notice that as of now it’s all voluntary. Sarah Sorscher pointed this out in the public meeting back in 2019, “We are concerned that the existing law fails to provide sufficient authority for the agency to require true fam to fork traceability. And so we believe congress should expand the agencies authority so that the FDA can require tracing of high priority foods from point of sale to point of origin.” Even Sandra Eskin with PEW Charitable Trusts feels that “product and environmental testing has to be increased and amplified in a way that presents a picture of what’s going on in a field…” So everyone’s answer is more governmental oversight.
Us growers and producers know all too well the hoops we have to jump through, and the blood, sweat and tears it takes to get a product to market. The idea that these initiatives are for the safety and welfare of the consumer is farcical in my opinion. This is a Stalinistic power grab that, as Pradeep Prabhala puts it, provides “a massive opportunity here to drive consumer behavior change and cultural change.” Stalin used industrialization to secure his totalitarian grip over the people. It is happening again, but this time on a global scale.