20 Nov 2020

Traceability: Why You Should Care Where Your Food Comes From

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Reykjavik, Iceland. Patagonia, Chile. Kona, Hawaii. Sanford, Colorado. These places are all over the world geographically but are just a few of the locations that Seattle Fish Company sources traceable seafood from each and every week. In one of our recent blog posts, we discussed sustainability in seafood being a murky subject. On the surface, traceability may be easier to define than sustainability, but what it can look like in practice also varies. 

Traceability: What Is It And Why Does It Matter?

To level set, when we talk about traceability, what we’re referring to at the most basic level is a way to track the origin of a particular product and how it traveled through the supply chain. So what’s the problem, right? Don’t we know where all of our food is coming from before it is packed and shipped to grocery stores, or is featured on a restaurant menu? The answer to that is complicated because there is not a universally standard way to report traceability data. There is no massive database in a warehouse somewhere that houses all this information. This means traceability is completely dependent on the commitment of individual companies to capture, preserve, and share accurate data with its supply chain partners – every step of the way. When a part of that supply chain fails to report, the data becomes less trustworthy. 

Aside from knowing where things come from, accurate traceability is important for several reasons

  1. It is vital for food safety and reduces contamination, disease, and spoilage; this is particularly important for a perishable product like fresh seafood. When unsafe foods slip through the cracks, traceability allows regulators to identify and isolate the source quickly in order to mitigate the consequences and minimize risk.
  2. It allows for transparency. When it comes to making purchasing decisions chefs, fishmongers, distributors, and consumers may want to know product origin, the method by which something was raised or caught, or if it has a particular sustainability accreditation – traceability helps to confirm all of that information.
  3. It works to shed light on and eliminate illegal fishing sales, mislabeling, and unacceptable social conditions within the supply chain; Removing illegal and unfair practices from the industry is key to the continuation of a legal and responsible future for seafood.

What’s Being Done About It? Well…A Lot!

Challenges to making seafood fully traceable through the use of a standardized system include language and technological barriers, as well as potential cost implications, but there are several efforts underway, both on an industry level and individual level, to help move these barriers. 

#1 Strategic Partnerships

In September of this year, Sea Pact, an industry nonprofit cofounded by Seattle Fish Co. and five other founding members, announced a partnership with Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST). This joint work program represents an important step forward for the seafood industry towards ensuring that all seafood products bought and sold around the world are traceable to legal and responsible production practices.

The collaboration will focus on implementation of the GDST 1.0 Standards and Guidelines for Interoperable Seafood Traceability, the first-ever global standards designed to make seafood traceability systems interoperable and verifiable worldwide. Sea Pact and GDST will coordinate their efforts to improve seafood traceability, increase the availability of information needed from the seafood supply base, and harmonize data reporting. 

Sea Pact members, including Seattle Fish Company, will use our collective voices to encourage industry-wide adoption of the GDST standards, and will emphasize the collection of priority “key data elements” as an early implementation step in concert with the rest of the seafood industry over the years ahead. 

#2 Traceable Programs from Seattle Fish Co.

Seattle Fish Company has forged strong, lasting relationships with our supplier partners over the last century. In many cases, these relationships allow us to exchange a flow of information and gather traceability data through our purchases that we can then pass on to our customers. We always include country of origin and harvest date, and whenever possible, include details for things like catch method and boat name directly on our invoices.

We also take traceability into consideration in our Eco Score program. This program, available exclusively to Seattle Fish Co. customers, uses a scoring system to rank all of our purchases based on things like sustainability accreditations, catch method, fair working conditions, and more.

Additionally, Seattle Fish Co.’s Whole Boat program highlights a sustainable and traceable seafood item each week.

A snapshot of Seattle Fish Co.’s Whole Boat program

#3 Introduction of New Technology

We’ve also seen our vendor partners, such as Niceland Seafood, bring technology into the seafood traceability process. Niceland adds a QR code to all of their product packing. By scanning that QR code, you are able to see every single step in the supply chain of their products, including where it was caught and by who, where it was landed, what airport it flew out of, and when it arrived at their distributor partner (Seattle Fish Co.).

A snapshot of Niceland Seafood’s traceability technology.

The seafood industry is hard at work improving product traceability from all angles. Seattle Fish Company looks forward to continuing to be a voice and activist of change.

Interested in furthering your traceability and sustainability efforts? Let your Seattle Fish Co. Sales Rep know you want to sign up for our Eco Score program, and are interested in our weekly Whole Boat specials. For more information on seafood traceability, we recommend visiting the Sea Pact and GDST website.

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