EU project finds answer to traceability legislation
Brussels, 08 Feb 2005
In preparation for the General Food Law, which came into force on 1 January 2005, the Commission decided in 2001 to fund the e-fruitrace project, aimed at achieving food security in the EU through an efficient traceability system based on Internet technologies.
The new EU food hygiene regulations, which require farmers, processors and distributors to implement farm to fork traceability, call for a comprehensive and compatible solution to allow all the actors involved in the agri-food sector to track products.
With 200,000 euro of funding from the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), the e-fruitrace project has successfully tested a Europe-wide Internet-based, customised and integrated traceability system for the fruit sector.
'Within the food chain there are three major steps: production, transformation and distribution,' explained project coordinator Itziar Cuenca in an interview with CORDIS NEWS. 'Thanks to the software we have developed, we are able to cover all three. Each player in the chain identifies his purchase of fruit and vegetables and registers that information in the system.'
Consumers want not only to be ensured of the quality of the products that they eat, but also of the source of these products. The concept of 'food traceability' means complete knowledge of the food eaten by consumers, including health, analysis, inspection of quality registers, origins, species, manipulation, chains, transport, logistics and marketing.
As Ms Cuenca explained to CORDIS NEWS, all the partners in the project worked together to quantify the information that needed to be included in the software application. Such information included where fruit was grown, what fertilizers or pesticides were used, what type of irrigation water was employed.
'For example,' said Ms Cuenca, 'if a box of bad apples makes it onto the market, it is important to find the origin of the problem. To be able to go back in the food chain and find where the problem comes from is the main goal of traceability. And it is the 'raison d'être' of e-fruitrace,' she added.
'Thanks to e-fruitrace, we can tell where the apples came from, what sort they are, who picked them, who washed and transferred them, and even where the tray they are in comes from,' Ms Cuenca commented.
E-fruitrace has also overcome the key problem dogging Europe-wide traceability legislation: the incompatibility of different platforms used by different actors in different countries. E-fruitrace did not design a whole new system, but simply unified the various traceability systems using Internet-based tools. The result is a de facto standard for fruit traceability.
Since e-fruitrace can be used with existing traceability solutions, the investments required from agricultural cooperatives, processors and distributors is small compared to the cost of implementing new tracking systems. In addition, explained Ms Cuenca, not only can information be exchanged quickly and easily up and down the food chain, but it can also be used anywhere in the world.
'It is a flexible system adaptable to individual cases,' concludes the project coordinator. 'It helps the industry control its production and produce quality products that are safe for consumers. We are very happy with the result but at present we missing the response from the market. However, this might change now that the legislation is in place.'
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