Step-by-step traceability builds safety into Brazilian food chain

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Step-by-step traceability builds safety into Brazilian food chain

No grower is too small for Brazilian traceability solutions company PariPassu, which takes a unique and "purpose driven" approach to making sure food will be safe from now and in the future. With software programs and traceability techniques that his company tries to introduce slowly to producers, co-founder Thomas Eckschmidt believes there is no one size fits all approach to ensuring best agricultural practices. During the Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) Fresh Summit event in New Orleans, he told about a type of food safety movement that will likely span his whole country eventually, and has already extended elsewhere.

While PariPassu's solutions include a range of metrics to keep products safe for human consumption, Eckschmidt highlights that programs at the retail level in Brazil show traceability needs to go beyond risk management. Thomas Eckschmidt

"People go for traceability for risk management, but if we have the ability to look deeper and say 'I want to do more because I want to do better', that makes a big change," he says.

"One of our major retailers in Brazil, Pão de Açúcar - now controlled by France's Casino - have started a program that is very strong in controlling and monitoring pesticides as well.

"We [PariPassu] have a program with 28 retail chains where we sample food around the country, and whenever there is a problem above the authorized limits, we communicate it to all the network, and they stop buying for a week, a month or the whole cycle."

He says this is a much stronger penalty than a fine, because it cuts the tap on cash flow and incentivizes growers to have lower chemical residues for the sake of maintaining good relationships with customers.

"It made a whole different awareness of the whole network of farmers, growers, distributors and these retail chains working together, to say ‘oops, I have to pay attention to what I ship'.

"Slowly this movement, which is supported by the Supermarket Association in Brazil, is growing and it will eventually take over the whole market, and then there is no way to escape, because if you lock the whole thing at once, you don’t give the market time to adjust.

"Initially it’s an elimination process, but in the future I believe it will include more people - we're looking to work together to make a difference."

Eckschmidt says his company is arguably the largest traceability solution provider or platform in South America with 24,000 growers, farmers and retail stores in Brazil.

"Outside Brazil we have clients in about 15 countries, and that accounts for another 1,000 - these countries include China, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, the U.S. and Mexico.

The company also has published books on traceability in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and provides pro bono or low fee consultancy solutions to apiculturalists in order to "contribute back to the sector".

"We look at the food chain and have to address three levels of food safety: one, produce enough quantity to feed the world so that people don’t starve.

"Secondly, we need to make sure that the food is not going to kill us because of contamination - killing us in the short term with microbiological contamination or in the long term through chemical contamination.

"Then the last one is that our practices don’t kill our abilities to feed ourselves in the future because we’re destroying the environment."

To apply these principles, PariPassu seeks to be true to what its name means in Latin - "with an equal step", or as Eckschmidt also interprets it, "step by step".

"When you talk to a farmer, each farmer has a different level of understanding and knowledge and trust, so you have to go very slowly.

"When we implement our system we really go step by step; we give them a piece, we visit them every year, evaluate how they’re using the system.

"We don’t add any monetary values because we want to prevent them from feeling that we’re invading their privacy."

He says that Brazil's food safety situation is very different compared to other systems in the Northern Hemisphere.

"Many growers don't have systems. When we started in 2005, most of them didn't have cell phones. Now we have a lot of different technologies and practices, and we're working to get more of our systems into cell phones so they can be identified in an easier, mobile way.

"We have highly professional, international, GlobalG.A.P. certified farmers that export to the whole world, and then the guys who are local farmers. You can’t just kick them out because they’re local.

"Everybody should participate because everybody has the benefit to get the food performance information back to their process – if they know their food is underperforming, they get paid less, and if they know why, they have a chance to fix it and get paid more. So we keep them happy, producing and making money; living, not surviving."



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