Traceability in the Food and Fibre Industry

Traceability as a general concept is fundamental to various industries to protect consumers and ensure quality and safety. It's a system that shows the movement of goods as they travel from primary producer to consumer and involves "tracking" and "tracing". Tracking, or following a product, group of products or product derivatives forward to the retail shelves is matched with tracing materials back to their origins. Along the food supply chain, traceability is generally used in one of two ways: either for product recalls or to support a range of product claims.

The traceability models used in the food and fibre supply chains have been around in one form or another for more than 30 years. The tools we have used in the past have evolved over time, but still follow the same processes. A source verified branded product from 30 years ago may have had the details printed on the packaging stating where it was grown, the story of the farmer or how it was processed. There could have been a phone number, or later a website, to find out more about the story behind the food. There might even have been a source verification number that you could check to ensure the product was authentic. Today, a consumer can scan a QR code on their packaging to get exactly the same information.

To be able to talk about traceability in any meaningful way for a given food or fibre you must fully understand the whole supply chain in fine detail. When this detailed understanding of the supply chain is missing, companies often make poor business decisions in choosing what systems and processes to implement and lose sight of trying to meet customer traceability expectations.

Data42 has predominantly been involved in projects within the food and fibre industry involving traceability, so this is where our expertise currently lies, and what is covered here.

Score Your Traceability

Data42 have created a tool for you to get your own scorecard for evaluating your industry's traceability information flow. The Traceability Score Card evaluated a number of different identification and information processes against the National Traceability Framework Principles.

You can get your score card here.

What do Traceability Solutions in the Food and Fibre Industry Look Like?

Food Safety Traceability

Food safety is one of the primary reasons traceability is so heavily legislated and so important. Businesses and industries fear losing sales to consumer fear around diseased or contaminated food and want to remove any damaged or contaminated stock as quickly as possible without losing out on sales from non-damaged or contaminated stock. This has led to industry solutions to track any food through all stages of production, processing and distribution (including importation and at retail).

Product Provenance

Consumers want to trust that the product they receive really does deliver on the promises made by the industry or company. We know that businesses want to please their customers, while recognising that expensive traceability solutions don’t necessarily equate to more sales. This has led to the development of systems that can show how a product is produced, transported and delivered, while recognising the costs and demands of the industry itself.

Paddock to Plate

Recognising the value and importance in ensuring customers can trust the emotive claims your product promises should be a forefront of business practice. Traceability can help identify and highlight various stages in the meat production process, whether for reporting, security or consumer trust.

Whole of Life History

Traceability can develop reporting systems that store the history from start to finish of any product or animal. Securely storing and maintaining data is vital for good business practice in any industry, but especially in the food and fibre industry. Traceability supported systems and practices lead to good business practice and a sense of security knowing the whole of life history for an animal or product.

Food Integrity

Food integrity is about providing assurance to consumers and other stakeholders about the safety, authenticity and quality of food. Traceability is a tool which can help maintain confidence around these issues, leading to more confidence for individual businesses and the industry itself.

Supply Chain Efficiency Through Improved Information

The effective use of traceability tools in business and industry practice is a benefit to everyone involved. Embracing traceability can itself make the most optimum use of your resources including financial, human, technological or physical.

Traceability is Free Articles

Des Bowler has written various articles about the impacts of traceability in different sectors of the food and fibre industry, using his 25+ years of experience in the industry. He fundamentally believes that traceability is free, and if you would like to find out more about how you can implement free traceability in your industry, feel free to browse the articles below.

  1. Traceability is free - General overview about why traceability is free
  2. The role of Government in "Traceability is Free"
  3. The role of Software Vendors in "Traceability is free"
  4. "Traceability is Free" for Fresh Produce
  5. "Traceability is Free" for Meat Processing
  6. "Traceability is Free" for Retailers
  7. "Traceability is Free" for Food Manufacturers
  8. "Traceability is Free" for Food Logistics
  9. "Traceability is Free" for Global Food Trade
  10. "Traceability is Free" for Consumers

Each of these articles have worked examples for their specific sector, they outline how the Global Supply Chain Standards can be applied, and how it provides free traceability.

About the Author

Des Bowler has been working with information systems within the meat and livestock industry and as the managing director of Management for Technology since 1993. Des has worked with companies all over the world to establish more efficient means of traceability, and through this work he has also presented to industry and government forums around the globe, including the United Nations ECE.

In 2006 Des was the augural winner of the GS1 Australia Supply Chain Excellence Award, an award that is issued to an outstanding individual for "Leadership in Standards in Action". This award recognised the work undertaken in the adoption of standardised numbering and bar coding in the Australian meat Industry for global traceability. This model and the methods that were utilised by the Australian industry have now been adopted by most global meat trading partners such as the US, Japan, the EU, New Zealand and South America.

Over the last few years, the word traceability has increasingly appeared in the media, advertising as well as regulations around the world. Des seeks to use the industry experience he's gained to educate people in the agricultural sector, government and consumers on what the others seek to gain from traceability, and how to get the most out of traceability solutions. Currently, many traceability systems in the food industry are still manual and ineffective to a growing consumer demand. Management for Technology provides expertise to government, industry and organisations to implement these technologies inexpensively and effectively. All sectors of the food supply chains need to be aware of the impacts of the drivers for traceability and the emerging technology to their respective businesses and the food supply chains as a whole. Management for Technology specialises in improving food supply chain traceability.

Over the last 30 years Des has conducted many industry reviews and analysis resulting in the publication of numerous industry reports. Some of these reports can be found at:

Des is also a member of the Red Meat Supply Chain Committee, a joint industry and government committee reviewing and piloting information standards related to the red meat industry.