Bees for Development
Traceability in a supply chain is one safeguard to ensure that food which reaches consumers is safe to eat.
If a consumer buys honey from a local beekeeper they know exactly where the honey comes from. If there is a problem with the honey and the person who eats it becomes ill, they can tell the beekeeper about the problem so he can prevent it from happening again. Or the consumer may choose simply not to buy honey from that beekeeper again.
When honey is traded in distant markets the consumer does not know the beekeeper who harvested the honey. However, if there is traceability in the supply chain then it should still be possible for a problem identifed by a consumer to be traced back to the origin. The consumer knows which shop they bought the honey from, the shop knows which honey packer packed the honey, the honey packer knows which exporter supplied the honey, the exporter knows which beekeepers supplied the honey for each drum of honey exported. Full traceability ensures that
(a) problems can be identified back to origin and solved
(b) persistent problems can be solved by removing a certain supplier from the supply chain
Traceability is achieved through implementing a system of record keeping and putting identifying marks on all containers used to store, transport and consolidate honey.
A beekeeper may use his initials on his own 20 litre buckets and when his honey is emptied into a larger container, a record keeper will write down that the 100 litre bucket marked A23 contains the honey from five beekeepers, and all their initials are noted down. All drums are then taken to the factory and consolidated for export. It will be recorded that buckets A23, A24 and A25 are consolidated into drum G6 (300litres). By looking back at all the records it will be possible to know all the beekeepers who have contributed to drum G6.
However, consolidation does pose a challenge to full traceability. For example, in the situation described the 300 litre drum of honey which is destined for export contain the honey harvested by fifteen beekeepers. If buyer finds a problem with this drum it is possible to narrow the source of the problem down to the group of fifteen beekeepers, but not down to a single beekeeper. This is inevitable as consolidation must take place. However, without traceability the buyer may only know that the drum came from a whole district with thousands of beekeepers. Trying to identify the source of a problem in this case would be impossible.
Traceability also ensures that beekeepers who supply good honey are not penalised. For example, a honey exporter may buy honey from five districts within a country and each drum which he exports contains honey only from one of the five districts. If then a problem is found in one of these drums, the exporter may stop buying honey from the district from where it came. However, the beekeepers in all the other four districts are protected. If, however, it had not been possible to trace the problem drum back to the district of origin the buyer may have decided to stop buying honey from the whole country, instead of just one district.
Traceability is all about record keeping. It is simple to do but requires a proper record-keeping system.
List of Articles available on this topic (3):
Certification traceability of products EU Import Regulation
Honey trade issues
Tsunami of Indian (Chinese) honey now arriving on US shores threatens to drown rebounding US honey market