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Traceability is here to stay: That’s one of the chief takeaways from this year’s Seafood Expo North America, in Boston, where entities dedicated to making sure that companies, wholesalers and consumers know where their fish comes from, as well as the conditions under which they were fished or farmed, were well represented among the exhibitors.
That fact was driven home by the release at the show of a report from international ocean conservation organization Oceana, “Fish Stories,” which details how seafood traceability benefits a range of companies throughout the supply chain, including retailers Whole Foods Market and Wegmans Food Markets.
“Traceability is the future of seafood,” noted Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Washington, D.C.-based Oceana. “Testimonials from these pioneers show that full-chain traceability isn’t just feasible, but that it’s also profitable. These businesses are telling the stories of their products, growing their seafood’s value, and establishing trust with their customers. Fishermen and wholesalers are able to earn more for their catch when they can tell the story of their fish, empowering consumers to make more informed decisions. The federal government should require boat-to-plate traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S. so that the entire supply chain can reap its benefits.”
On the show floor, PG spoke with Phil Werdal, CEO of Seattle, Wash.-based Trace Register and himself a fisherman for many years, about the company’s latest software offering, Traceability Plus (TR+), which he described as “a big jump in the deep end of the pool” in regard to making myriad supply chain data usable. Set to roll out during Q2, the comprehensive solution encompasses data collection, data quality management and analytics, giving users the ability to confirm food safety certification status and socially responsible and sustainable production, among other items. Further, in the wake of the enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act, Trace Register is setting its sights beyond seafood, as Miami-based food distributor Quirch Foods will use TR+ to manage its frozen beef, poultry, pork and vegetable lines.
Successful and Sustainable
At the Louisiana Seafood booth, the state’s brand-new lieutenant governor, Billy Nungesser, member of a fishing family, stressed the importance of ensuring supply and quality of seafood as the region continues to bounce back from the disastrous BP oil spill in 2010. According to Nungesser, sustainability is key to Louisiana seafood; he noted that the second-largest seafood producer in the nation should be “not just successful, but [also] sustainable.”
To that end, the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board is promoting the traceability of the state’s products as opposed to that of many imported items, which, Nungesser and Executive Director Karen Profita pointed out could contain chemicals banned in the United States, citing a recent study. “It’s like playing Russian roulette,” noted Nungesser of a consumer’s chances of purchasing imported seafood with undesirable additives, while Profita added, “Our guys just want a level playing field.”
Further, in keeping with social responsibility becoming a larger piece of the overall traceability proposition, Nungesser said that recent federal legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama, the PROTECT Act, closes the slave-labor loophole that had previously allowed seafood produced under such practices to enter the United States. The law will have “a huge impact on what’s coming into this country,” affirmed Nungesser, adding that, with the help of the board, “retailers can tell that story.”
‘Pivotal’ U.S. Role in Aquaculture
That focus on the social aspects of traceability was also in evidence during the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) Partner Update, held on March 7 at SENA. Chris Ninnes, CEO of Netherlands-based ASC, described these social aspects as better working conditions and reduced impacts on communities.
Additionally at the meeting, mention was made of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions’ first update since 2008 to a resource used by 80 percent of the North American grocery and institutional foodservice markets. Released on Saturday March 5, the revised Common Vision for Sustainable Seafood is the first to address the next generation of issues affecting sustainable seafood, including social issues like human rights violations and labor exploitation, and verifying sustainability by tracing products back through the supply chain.
Ninnes went on to describe how his organization was collaborating with the London-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a fellow nonprofit, to streamline efficiencies, encouraging use of the latter organization’s chain-of-custody program to reduce costs for businesses.
Despite the worldwide progress noted at the meeting, including partnerships with Europe-based grocers Ahold and Lidl, all panel members agreed that more needed to be done to increase aquaculture production and awareness in the United States, with Ninnes describing such action as “pivotal.”
Joseph Lasprogata, VP of Philadelphia-based wholesaler Samuels and Son Seafood, expressed particular frustration with the current state of awareness he's encountered, noting that marketing the benefits of farmed fish was “difficult” in a climate where there was “very little knowledge” on the part of the consumer regarding aquaculture, thereby giving suppliers and retailers little incentive to seek seafood produced this way. “Nobody asks us about it until they have to,” Lasprogata said, which he added placed companies like his on the defensive, since they must counter persistent misunderstandings with explanations of why aquaculture is important and why customers should pay for it. He additionally pointed to Americans’ bias against farmed seafood, “even though everything else they eat is farmed.”
Since U.S. food industry players, including supermarkets, “don’t understand what’s involved” in aquaculture, Lasprogata called for greater support from ASC and other organizations in getting the word out more effectively.