Produce industry moves to make it easier to trace origin of fruit and vegetables

Currently there is no common standard in the industry.
Currently there is no common standard in the industry. Photo credit: Supplied

The country's $6-billion fresh produce industry is moving to improve its traceability systems as consumers demand more knowledge about where their fruit and vegetables come from.

Currently, there is no common standard in the industry, and the sector has been under increasing pressure to refine its systems, as food safety and environmental concerns play a larger role in guiding consumer decisions.

"Reliable traceability systems are no longer an optional extra in the produce industry, but a baseline requirement of increasing importance," Anne-Marie Arts, project director for United Fresh New Zealand, said on Thursday.

United Fresh represents more than 90 different organisations in the produce industry. 

Arts said although the majority of industry organisations around the country used some sort of tracing system, information was not shared between organisations and there was no industry standard. 

The focus now is on how this individual tracking can be shared across the industry at each step of the supply chain and across all categories.

"We know that traceability in the New Zealand domestic produce supply chain is not working to a common standard, since each supply chain varies in its management of internal and external traceability, with external traceability working well in some cases, or not at all in others," Arts said.

In order to improve traceability, a consultation document seeking industry input was released earlier this month. That comes on the heels of a project spearheaded by United Fresh in 2018 that was launched in response to global and local health scares from food products.

Dr Hans Maurer, chair of United Fresh's technical advisory group, said the guidelines are a chance for the industry to decide on its own how best to come up with a solution, an option he said was preferable to having a system developed without industry input.

"We already have world-class produce in our supermarket aisles and world-class operating systems within many individual growing operations, but we see an opportunity to utilise technological advancements to enable data-sharing right across the produce industry, an advancement that would add value without generating significant costs to either consumer or grower," said Dr Maurer.

The consultation is expected to be completed by mid-October, with the final version of the guidelines to be published in 2021.