Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coming Full Circle

As the Midwest quickly powershifted from late winter to early summer, I was somewhat behind the eight-ball as far as securing reading material for weekends & upcoming days off. But I have been enjoying the heck out of the latest download to my large-fonted Kindle, 'The Greater Journey--Americans in Paris 1830-1900' by David McCullough.

The book relates the travels of, among other professionals who followed them during that period, noted Americans Samuel Morse--inventor of the telegraph, then a painter--and writer James Fenimore Cooper, who penned 'Last of the Mohicans'. These men were wealthy enough to be able to study & learn abroad at a time when our country had little history & experience in the arts and medicine, and looked to Paris for cutting-edge answers.

What brought me back to reality, however, was McCullough's lurid description of the Parisian cholera outbreak of 1832, in which thousands died in what seemed like an instant. Nasty stuff no doubt, with the authorities at the time perplexed as to how to solve the problem, which struck ironically at the global nexus of higher education & technology of the day.

I thought that here we are, nearly two centuries down the pike with the current E. coli situation in Germany, and still we have many more questions than answers. It's not for lack of trying, though. Miodrag Mitic, founder of the European Traceability Institute, explained the challenges quite well on a Linkedin comment in the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Forum:

"In contrast to the GS1 guideline, the Food Law in Europe does not compel operators to establish a link (internal traceability) between incoming and outgoing products. Nor is there any requirement for records to be kept identifying how batches are split and combined within a business to create particular products or new batches."


"Basic traceability requirements are accounted for in the...certification schemes, but concerns over the cost of audits often result in spending little time on traceability verification during actual audits. Auditor competence is also a factor in this as auditors receive little or no specialist training in traceability system design, implementation and assessment."

An inexact science to be sure, and the European concerns stated by Mr. Mitic aren't different at all from what we in the States deal with each & every crisis of this kind that arises. Obtuse bureaucracies, lack of funds, operator errors, and in this instance, suspicions of a potential cover-up. Where will it all end?

Lost in the frothy mess--again--are the growers, farmers, wholesalers & retailers that have & will suffer collateral financial damage from this. The Spanish cucumber grower is just the new & improved 2011 version of the Florida tomato shipper.

Quick to accuse, sluggish to retract. It's not just the American way.



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