Effective Traceability matters – so does having the right technology

Aug 08, 2016
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Effective food traceability systems are inherently complex. Data on ingredients, products, locations, processes, dates and business entities are constantly being captured, stored and kept accessible to multiple supply chain participants. And this requires the right information (accurate information) and communications technologies.

EPCIS is one such technology – an open standard interface for the storage and retrieval of information in any web-hosted database which has been designed to enable tracking and tracing of products and ingredients. EPCIS (short for “Electronic product Code Information Services”) is appearing worldwide as a critical element in many different traceability solutions for food and various other traded items.

New Zealand now has its own EPCIS platform, built by GS1 New Zealand to help accelerate the development of traceability systems in our key food and other industries. Traceability is definitely a hot topic in this country following the dairy industry’s Whey Protein Concentration (WPC) contamination scare of 2013 and last year’s burst of Yersinia bacteria incidents in domestic fresh produce. In both cases, current traceability systems were found wanting –and the pressure is on for these industries and others to acquire (and demonstrate) far stronger track and trace capabilities.

Indeed, nowhere is the world standing still on traceability. Consumers, retailers and governments are demanding more of it in Asia, Europe and North America – and also in New Zealand, not least because of the importance of our national reputation for food quality and safety on global markets.

It makes perfect sense, therefore, for our industries to adopt globally-recognised best technologies for traceability. As I say, EPCIS is one of them.

New Zealand’s first EPCIS platform will eventually enable many and varied traceability solutions to be developed. Deer velvet exporting to North Asia is just one of those being worked on currently by GS1 New Zealand, in partnership with Deer Industry New Zealand and others. Shipments of frozen velvet from the most recent harvest, most destined to become food and health supplements in South Korea, will be tracked and traced using an EPCIS-based solution. It’s a pilot project with broader implications for the deer and other industries.

Earlier traceability pilots here (including farm-to-retailer track and trace on chilled venison exported to Germany in 2013) have used a well-established EPCIS platform based in Hong Kong. A pilot undertaken in 2014 involving frozen Halal meat to Malaysia used an EPCIS platform based in Kuala Lumpur.

Having our own platform both owned and controlled out of New Zealand will give GS1 New Zealand and local industries greater access to the technology and more flexibility on how it can be applied from situation-to-situation.

It is important to understand that EPCIS is not a traceability solution per se. Rather it’s a building block for the implementation of any specific solution that involved a web-hosted database. The strength of EPCIS lies in the interface capabilities it creates for supply chain participants as they store and query data of great complexity –and in its status as an open global standard that enables interoperability between the different systems of participants.

It’s also important to note that GS1 NZ is not setting out to compete with local solution providers or others who are addressing traceability challenges in New Zealand. On the contrary, the EPCIS platform is there for other parties to use for the traceability requirements of many and varied industries – and in fact, the platform will itself be developed the more we learn about tracking and tracing in real life New Zealand businesses and their markets.

Without becoming too lyrical, New Zealand acquiring its own EPCIS platform is a substantial step forward in this country’s ability to respond to the challenges and opportunities of traceability in our biggest and most valuable industries. Look out for this five letter acronym coming to a supply chain near you.

By Gary Hartley of GS1 New Zealand.

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