As of next January, traceability requirements in EU General Food Law will come into force. It will require every individual link in the supply chain to keep a record of what it buys, where it buys from and where it sells to.
The new law puts the safety of food, from raw material to the plate, at the top of the agenda. Failure to control precisely every ingredient expected to be incorporated at any stage of production and distribution will cause problems for suppliers.
Such detailed traceability is essential to the industry but will also go a long way towards the government’s strategy for sustainable farming and food. It recognises the need for change and will encourage greater co-operation and improvement throughout the food chain. Given the difficulties and pressures faced by British food and farming, this has the potential to be a welcome change for the industry.
However, this will also highlight issues to do with the safety of many low-cost ingredients circulating in the food chain. Manufacturers will need to balance the requirement to produce goods at competitive prices with the higher ingredient costs that often result from the drive to ensure food that is 100% safe.
The food chain is a highly complex, global operation and effective traceability can sometimes seem an impossible task. Sudan 1, for example, entered the food chain in India and in May 2003 was recalled in the UK. By August 2004 the recall had grown to include 225 foods and 78 brands. Products containing the Sudan 1 ingredient, however, are still believed to be available.
Maintaining effective traceability in a global chain is complex. Simplification is required and suppliers must lead the way, implementing transparent procedures and taking responsibility to manage the process. This will require financial investment, but is essential to protect the relationship between our farming and food industry.
Meanwhile, more people than ever are stipulating British, local food and are willing to pay more for value-added products.
One of the most important principles of sustainable farming is the creation of strong links between all members of the supply chain. In a highly competitive chain, individuals need to work together to drive out unnecessary costs. According to the Curry Report, the best way for a small farm
business to get the benefits of a large farm business is to collaborate with each other. We couldn’t agree more with this.
At Ginsters we source over £7m worth of raw materials from suppliers within a 20-mile radius of the bakery. This hasn’t happened overnight. It has been a lengthy process that has required constant collaboration and the establishment of strong relations with our suppliers.
The south west region is a prime example of how the commitment to traceability is leading to a truly sustainable local economy. We work closely with our suppliers from the outset, particularly through the Cornwall Farmers Association, to establish and agree priorities that are workable and efficient for everyone involved.
We undertake audits and site visits to ensure that integrated systems, practices and procedures are in place.
The approach is very hands-on, requiring direct involvement with suppliers at all levels but enabling a far greater understanding of the bigger picture. With such a large quantity of our ingredients being sourced locally, it is much easier to guarantee quality and ensure that the correct procedures are being adhered to.
So the increased focus on traceability may well give local suppliers a greater competitive advantage.
In addition, the contribution to British farming can be considerable as manufacturers are encouraged to source locally and create a mutually beneficial supply chain that provides consumers with real quality foods.