Food Systems Podcast 49
In discussion with Steve Statler
Friday, May 26, 2023
This edition of the Food Systems Podcast features a discussion with Steve Statler, Chief Marketing Officer & ESG Lead at Wiliot – Interviewer, Speaker & Writer at the Mr. Beacon Podcast. Steve explains why food traceability has become important and shares his opinion on the role of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the implications for the agri-food industry, including farmers and ranchers.
Food traceability is very much a topic of the day. Why is so much importance being attached to it?
Food traceability has always been important but now there has been a convergence of regulatory compliance and the industry’s desire to build trust. Inevitably, in food there are contamination issues which impact demand. Now there is a combination of making sure demand holds up, keeping the right side of the legislative landscape, and there’s a competitive element as well.
The Food Safety Modernization Act in the US is the catalyst for our discussion. For our European listeners, what are the implications for the agri-food industry?
FSMA specifically focuses on traceability. The legislation is a move to give a unique identifier to batches of product, starting off on the farm and flowing through the supply chain all the way to the retailer. The law creates an obligation to give the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) the traceability information. FSMA doesn’t cover meat and milk, but it does cover eggs, cucumbers and some sorts of cheeses. The list is based on the risk factor of the food. FSMA has a deadline of January 20, 2026, when everybody, whether a farmer, a distributor, a packer or a fast-food restaurant or grocer needs to be ready.
It’s driving us towards a future where our food supply chain is tracked and traced through a unique ID for everything flowing up and down the chain.
You believe this is an opportunity for the agri-food industry – why do you say that?
Everyone wants to manage risk, but there’s an opportunity cost to food traceability: maybe you invest but your competitor won’t. The legislation sets a level playing field and it raises the bar for everyone at the same time. So it’s not going to be a competitive disadvantage. And it will drive new platforms where it will be relatively easy to go beyond simple identity tracking and do other things like cold chain tracking and carbon tracing.
Are there other risks and what are the penalties for non-compliance?
The FDA has a big stick because they control the food licences that are required to do business. There is also reputational risk. But there are still a lot of things that need to be sorted out in terms of how you implement the law.
How do you see the technology evolving, not only in enabling compliance with the food safety model but in other ways?
FSMA doesn’t prescribe any particular technology. You can present the traceability information in any format that you wish. The real question is, what is the carrier? A printed barcode is obviously cheapest. Do you use RFID, radio frequency identified tags? Or do you use the next wave of technology, which we at Wiliot are proponents of, which we define as ambient IoT? Ambient IoT is essentially the RFID tag taken to the next level. I think ambient IoT will ultimately prevail; not only are the capital costs of the equipment lower, the platform brings an opportunity to automate.
You mentioned carbon sustainability attributes earlier. Could the technology transfer into tracking carbon footprint?
With carbon, the current cadence of measurement is an annual one, which doesn’t pass the test in terms of urgency. We believe real-time carbon measurement is the way to go to reduce carbon footprint. This can be a measure of efficiency and effectiveness and quality. Carbon is a cost and I think this is going to be the next metric we use.
We talked about cucumbers and cheese being among the categories of products that will be touched. Is there a way to do the same for commodities, particularly grain that ends up in finished goods?
Yes, absolutely. You can apply sensors not only to cases or primary packaging but also to bulk shipping containers. With this new world of ambient IoT, technology is turning on the lights, so you see everything all of the time. The producer of the raw materials can see where they are in the supply chain and start to optimize production, shipping and distribution.
If this really takes off, how do you think the industry will look in 10 years’ time?
It will give visibility to what’s happening on farms and there will be optimization. Shopping will be different, the commerce model will change. Privacy laws will still apply. I think profit, people and planet can all be aligned.
Will there need to be a common approach globally, or at least between the EU and the US, about how we begin to deploy the technology from a regulatory perspective?
There’s already a lot of food safety regulation that will drive this, so I think it will be a patchwork. There’s going to be a need for new standards, but we’ve got the basic building blocks to start now.
If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 30-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.
Steve Statler leads Wiliot’s marketing strategy, brand, and thought leadership, helping drive the company’s pioneering work in the ambient...see more IoT market, scaling IoT from billions to trillions of things to bring real-time visibility to retail inventory, supply chains, food safety/traceability, and carbon accounting. Prior to joining Wiliot, Steve was the CEO of Statler Consulting, which provided advice, planning, and systems integration services for companies using location awareness technologies to engage their customers and optimize their business. Read more on the Wiliot website He is also the author with 12 expert contributors of Beacon Technologies: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem. The Mr. Beacon podcast, book, resources and more information can be found at https://www.mister-beacon.com/