Since January 1, 2006, it has been mandatory for Spanish (and European) fruit and vegetable producers to provide complete traceability of their products.
This strange word is just the combination of “trace” and “ability“, i.e. the ability of an organization (or external agent) to follow the trace of its products from its farmers or farms to its customers and/or vice versa.
Even before the entry into force of this mandate there were many pioneer companies who have been doing it for years, either for a requirement of international markets or as an exercise of responsibility.
Fruit and vegetable companies in general have welcomed this legal initiative, implementing it and even internationalizing it as a strategy for differentiating products from other countries.
For this differentiation strategy to work, traceability must continue as far as the end consumer, and this is not the case today. As soon as the product reaches a grocery store or supermarket shelf (with honorable exceptions), the boxes already on the shelves are replenished with products from other boxes that have nothing to do with those displayed.
Currently, the traceability of food products is only guaranteed in sealed and properly labelled containers, which contrasts sharply with how fruit and vegetables are displayed and sold in southern Europe. Bulk sale by self-service or assisted service is a widespread source of bad practice.
The surprising (and illegal) presence in wholesale product markets of products in “field boxes” with no identification deserves special mention.
Until now, we had assumed that the (national and European) authorities that have promoted, quite rightly, the mandatory traceability of products under the principle of food safety for consumers would have completed the job by requiring the other agents in the chain to maintain traceability.
Until now, we had assumed that after having spent the money on systems for tracking our products, the producers, have the right not now to compete on equal terms with products from third countries origins (since many of them do not provide the same mandatory traceability as European ones), but at least to boast to consumers that we do have it.
And of course, we had assumed that consumers (as we all are) should have the right to effectively enjoy the much publicized measure.
Well, the only thing found so far is that in the last European horticultural food crisis (the “E. coli” and misnamed “cucumber” crisis), in Germany, the only company that had maintained the highest standards of traceability was the one unjustly designated, while the rest (including the real culprit – a German company with fresh outbreaks) were protected by their anonymity.
Until traceability is maintained consistently as far as the end consumer by all agents in the horticultural value chain, injustice and insecurity hang solely and exclusively over those who strictly obey the law (the world upside-down).
New technologies (blockchain, etc.) are emerging that will make the whole value chain more open to the industry and the general public but until then, this is my personal “I accuse” in anticipation of the next food crisis. We must continue to assume that everyone has to play their part… Or is that too much to assume?