California Citrus Mutual is asking the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association to convince the Produce Traceability Initiative steering committee to postpone the Oct. 1 milestone.
The October 2010 PTI milestone, the fourth of seven from 2009 to 2012, calls on packers to encode Global Trade Item Numbers and lot numbers on a barcode at the case level.
In a March 5 letter to PMA and United Fresh, Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter, Calif.-based group, said confusion over the number of GTINs required, the cost of hardware and software and the uncertainty of receiver acceptance of traceability systems justify the request.
PMA, United Fresh and the Ottawa-based Canadian Produce Marketing Association have undertaken PTI, a voluntary program, as a joint effort.
One vertically integrated California citrus shipper Nelsen has visited with thinks he needs 8,000 GTIN numbers to move a few million cartons of fruit. Another said he thinks he needs twice that. He estimates 50% of the citrus industry in California has GTIN numbers, but none have made cash outlays for hardware and software.
While he has been told by United Fresh’s Dan Vache that those GTIN number requirements seem far too high, Nelsen said the fact that major shippers are misinformed on the issue supports a postponement.
California Citrus Mutual estimates the cost of PTI implementation for the citrus industry in the state will be about $25 million. Nelsen said there are about 100 shippers in California and estimates range from $200,000 to $400,000, depending on packinghouse size. The estimate was calculated using an average of $250,000 per packinghouse, he said.
“Already, receivers are contracting with single vendors to impose their system,” the letter said. “This is not uniformity and in fact is creating another cottage industry similar to the food safety audits imposed on producers.”
Nelsen said he believes others in the industry have been emboldened by California Citrus Mutual’s leadership on the issue to express their reservations.
“There has been a lot of murmuring and sidebar conversations but nothing that was dramatically expressing concern about the proposals and the milestones for implementing it,” he said.
Tom Stenzel, president of Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh, said he has visited with Nelsen and welcomes input from the citrus industry because it helps the steering committee understand the hurdles growers and shippers face.
“He understands we are serious about reaching out to the industry and we want to better understand — in this case — citrus industry concerns,” Stenzel said.
He said that United Fresh is putting together an agenda for its show in Las Vegas to help industry understanding.
“He is not the only one in the industry that has got concerns,” Stenzel said. “One of the things we are grappling with is trying to understand the hurdles people are running into.”
Stenzel said talk about moving the PTI milestone timeline is premature and said the focus should be on understanding the issues.
Terry Humfeld, vice president of member relations for PMA, said the letter shows there is confusion and uncertainty in the industry about PTI and what it is designed to do.
A Feb. 19 PTI steering committee meeting in Dallas addressed the need to do a better job of informing the industry, he said.
“I frankly wasn’t surprised because I know there are a lot of questions in the industry about how to go about implementing PTI,” Humfeld said. However, Humfeld said there have been no other discussions from other trade groups about postponing the timeline.
“There is simply a lot of misinformation and information in the marketplace that isn’t correct and well understood, and I think we need to work through those processes first before we begin to change dates arbitrarily.”
Stenzel said the Senate might work on food safety reform legislation in April, and it’s important to continue addressing traceability concerns.
Chris Schlect, president of Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Horticultural Council, said his members haven’t communicated apprehension about traceability yet, perhaps because some are waiting for national legislation to pass.