If you are what you eat, where does it come from? The importance of food traceability

Media release

17 June 2022

The adage, 'you are what you eat', takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to food traceability.

The origin of the food we consume has become increasingly important to consumers and industry alike, as events arising from the global pandemic can attest.

Significant supply chain interruptions around the world, coupled with extreme flooding within Australia, has resulted in a shortage of fresh produce, including organic, driving up prices and frustrating shoppers who may not realise why the shelves at the local supermarket are empty or when to expect the next lettuce delivery.

'The Australian Guide to Implementing Food Traceability: Organic Produce' is a user-friendly how-to guide for tackling traceability across the organic produce supply chain.

The Guide was developed by Deakin University's Food Traceability Laboratory in partnership with industry partners Woolworths Group and GS1 Australia.

"Produce is an increasingly important part of Australian food supply, and we developed this Guide to give Australia's organic farmers assurance that their product is handled well and remains in premium condition as it makes its way to local retailers or to overseas markets," Chair of Deakin’s Food Traceability Laboratory Mr David Downie said.

"Now more than ever food traceability is crucial. Consumers want to know the origins of produce from farm to fork, why there may be a shortage, if a product is recalled and, with a notable increase in sales of organic produce since the start of the pandemic, it is vitally important that accurate traceability information is available every step of the way."

The Guide is one of three developed by Deakin to assist Australian businesses to be able to achieve end-to-end traceability.

Traceability supports the tremendous effort growers put into their premium certified organic products as they are delivered to consumers in an increasingly complex food supply chain that is now both global and inherently dynamic. Visibility along the supply chain improves the speed and accuracy of food recalls and it’s a cornerstone of actions to curb threats of substitution or contamination in storage or distribution.

Australia's fresh produce organics industry contributes approximately $2.6 billion dollars to the Australian economy each year and the market is projected to continue to grow. Australia is also the world's largest holder of agricultural land under certified organic management with over 23 million hectares of soil now organic.

Head of Industry Solutions Woolworths Group Noelene De Villiers said: "As the Fresh Food people, it is imperative that our customers are able to have trust in our products, and even more so for organic fresh produce. The pandemic has only increased consumer interest in having greater visibility over where their food originates and how it’s grown.”

Future Traceability for Agricultural Trade Principal Director Joanna Bunting said: "Traceability is not just about the origin of the product but what happens to the product as it moves through the chain. Accurate and timely traceability systems show consumers that Australian products are safe and sustainable from paddock to plate, driving our access to premium international markets."

Over the last few years, a myriad of societal issues has taken consumption of organic produce beyond the odd speciality grocer to more mainstream supermarkets, and with that a strong desire to ensure that the increased costs involved for organic food is able to be justified all the way along the supply chain.

Australian Organics Ltd CEO Niki Ford said: "Consumers look for organically produced food because of their concerns around health, the environment, and animal welfare. As a result, they are willing to pay the price premiums certified organic produce can demand. During the COVID 19 pandemic the demand for organic food increased further because consumers perceived them to be healthier, safer, and good for their natural immunity."

'The Australian Guide to Implementing Food Traceability: Organic Produce' and other guides are available for download free from Deakin University's Implementing Food Traceability website.

Product or industry-specific guides can also be commissioned by contacting Rose Elphick-Darling.

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