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GS1 Databar offers Greater Traceability

This Story, written by Jet Rooke,  was published in the Fruit & Vegetable News in May 2008. 

Courtesy of Growcom’s Fruit and Vegetable News magazine

Momentum
is growing for Australian fruit and vegetable growers to adopt an
international electronic labelling standard for data exchange and
improved supply chain traceability.

GS1 Australia, a
not-for-profit organisation that locally administers a global
multi-industry standards 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.

Thanks
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 giants Wal-Mart and Loblaws are rolling out GS1 Databar with their suppliers.

In
the latest move, the Dutch Produce Association (DPA), which represents
98 per cent 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.

Mr 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 Mr 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.”

Mr
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.”

Mr 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.

 

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