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Traceable Agricultural Product Status Quo and Prospect
I. Definition of Traceable Agricultural Product
Traceable Agricultural Product (TAP) provides certification service for consumers who need safe, sustainable and open information traceable agriproducts. The system was implemented in 2007 by the Council of Agriculture (COA) in accordance with Article 7 of the Agricultural Production and Accreditation Act (system structure depicted in pic. 1). The promotion of the TAP system was carried out by formulating operation standards such as the Taiwan Good Agricultural Practice (TGAP), and setting up TAP information platform. Agricultural product operators are advised to adopt risk management measures and production methods that conform to the concept of sustainable agriculture to produce safe and traceable agri-products, which are then verified by international third-party accredited certification systems. Only those which are certified are entitled to use the TAP mark and relevant labelling, which allow consumers to easily identify, purchase, and look up complete record of production. The system would create product differentiation in the market, elevate product competitiveness, and create better production and consumption environment for agri-products.
Picture 1: TAP structure
II. History of TAP
The promotion of the TAP system by the COA comes in various phases: The Preparation phase (2003 to 2006), with core tasks such as information collection, trial assessment, introduction of TGAP regulation and certification, etc. The Activation phase (2007 to 2008) saw the promulgation of Agricultural Production and Accreditation Act. In order to speed up TAP certification and increase supply capability, the COA actively drafted supporting regulations and planned fee subsidy the certification I a gradually reducing pattern, that is: full subsidy from 2007 to 2009, two thirds subsidy from 2010 to 2012, and half subsidy from 2013 to 2015. The Review and Adjustment phase (2009 to 2011) utilized the actual cases accumulated from Activation phase to improve the quality of certification system. Moreover, reduce accreditation subsidy from full to two thirds in 2010, enhance market promotion of TAPs since 2011, and prepare to international connection issue. The Market-oriented phase (2012 to 2015) continued to strive for establishing market cognition to the system, actively matched supplier with buyer, rewarded TAP stores and restaurants, and increased consumers' accessibility to TAP products. Although the accreditation subsidy at this phase is cut in half as planned, the number of certified applicants has increased from 1052 in 2013 to 1570 in 2015 thanks to market demand.
III. Content of TAP
Establish TAP certification standard of operation, measures to achieve traceability, certification procedure, and certification agencies, among others. Briefly explained below:
Picture 2: Clear TAP data batch management helps sort out mixture of different batches.
Picture 3: TAP certification and accreditation system
(1) Production and marketing standard of operation
TAP production and marketing standard of operation adopts different strategies for different stages. Since the GAP is widely adopted internationally as the standard regulation for agricultural production, Taiwan borrows Japan's GAP as principal reference for the drafting of TGAP which in turn is carried out by COA’s District Agricultural Research and Extension Stations (DARES). Once ready, the COA proceeded to announce each agricultural product’s TGAP to be served as the principal standard of operation for production. As for the processing stage, since there are already well-developed certification systems such as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), Certified Agricultural Standards (CAS), and ISO22000; thus these systems are adopted directly as standard of operation for the processing stage. On the other hand, since risks involved in the distribution stage are relatively low, it would be satisfactory to comply with regulations set by respective administrative branches.
(2) Batch management, tracking, and traceability regulation
In order to foster main functions such as the quick handling and information disclosure of food safety incidents as well as ensuring that the TAP mark is used only on certificated products, the TAP system requires operators to keep record of species, product name, supplier, acquisition time, supply batch number, batch number or tracking code for the materials and equipments needed for production. Based on actual operation, make a complete record of operation time, use of material and equipment, operation procedure, and content. Take into consideration the establish batches in consideration of risk discrepancies from different product items, production location, production period, etc. and record the time and quantity of delivery according to the batches.
(3) Record of operation and information disclosure
Considering the fact that the scales of most agriculture operations in Taiwan are relatively small and scattered, and farmers in general lack document saving and processing ability. If individual operator were allowed to establish their own singular systems to publish information and offer relevant information, the reliability of the entire system might be challenged. In contrast, not only can the establishment of a centralized information platform rid the farmers of the trouble in setting up a system, but also help increase the extension in the obtainment and application of information. It will provide consumers with an exclusive and convenient information inquiry system. Therefore, TAP regulation clearly demands operator to adopt the TAP management and information system approved by central authorities then to release TAP production or distribution information via internet or other forms of electronic communication vehicles. In addition to allowing administrative authorities and certification agencies to review all the necessary data uploaded by agri-businesses for its integrity and accuracy, it also established the Taiwan Agriculture and Food Traceability System (TAFT) (http://taft.coa.gov.tw) for consumers and logistic sectors to check relevant information of relevant agricultural products.
(4) Product labeling
When on display, certified TAP products should be clearly labeled on the product itself, package, or container, which show name of product, traceability code, information release media, name of certification body and other information that needs to be displayed required by regulations or central administrative offices. As for those products that are not on display, they too should be labeled with traceability code and compiled in batches to meet the requirements for the release, tracking, and tracing of relevant information.
(5) Certification procedure
Before applying for certification, Agricultural product operators must carry out relevant operations in accordance with operation standard for a minimum of over 3 months. The application can be submitted to TAP accreditation agencies only after all recorded data in this period are uploaded to the aforementioned TAP management and information system approved by central authorities. Once the application is in order, the certification bodies must assign auditors to arrange auditing proposals for documentation review and on-site audit. Before the issuance of the certification, product safety risk inspection and testing would be carried out. After the review panel set up by the certification body has verified that the applicant is compliant with all certification standards based on the auditing report, the applicant is granted the certification.
(6) Certification bodies accreditation
In order to ensure the fairness, independence, and international acceptance of TAP certification procedure, as well as to draw on the already complete procedure regulation, standard, manpower and organization resources from international certification system, the operational and staff capability of TAP certification agencies should meet not only the general requirements (ISO17065), but also particular requirements by the COA on the certification agencies’ personnel qualification (compliant with ISO 19011) and test labs (compliant with ISO/IEC 17025). These agencies must also comply with laws and regulations such as the Agricultural Production and Certification Act, as well as other related legislation, administrative regulations, and announcements. Moreover, taking GLOBALGAP’s rules as reference, COA recognizes the verification results of international accreditation bodies to verifying the TAP certification agencies’ compliance on aforementioned regulations. The Guideline for the Accreditation of TAP Certification Agencies states that international accreditation bodies must first be approved by the COA to become "Specific Evaluation Agency". All of the aforementioned requirements are crucial references and guarantee for TAP agri-products to be conformed to norms through the certification quality control from both international and governmental organizations.
III. Notable achievements in recent years
The COA has been promoting the TAP system based on three key measures, including facilitating the producers, enhancing cognition at the consumer market level, and increasing system value and quality. It aims to gradually encourage more stakeholders to take part and drive TAP towards the direction of being operated by the private sector, and in line with international standard. Notable achievements are listed below:
(1) Sales and number of sales counters continue to grow (pic. 4)
In 2015 the monthly average of TAP label usage is 5.27 million, which translates to a growth of 47% compared with that in 2014. Incentives were awarded to enterprises that set up TAP sales counters. 13 companies including Carrefour, a.mart, Costco, and RT-Mart had established a total of 392 sales counters in 2015, contributing to an 8.6% increase compared with 2014.
Picture 4: Use of TAP labels increases annually
(2) Breakthrough in the promotion of traceability restaurants (pic. 5 and 6)
Since 2015, financial incentives have attracted AMOT (Agriculture Multi-Discipline Management of Technology) and With Heart Taiwan Meat Shop to assume the role of traceability service provider, which in turn assisted 91 restaurants / catering service providers such as “hot 7” and “Wonmi” to become traceability restaurants. This achievement accounts for up to 181 participating shops in contrast to 18 shops in 2014, which translate to a growth of 906%.
Picture 5: Most hypermarket and wholesale stores have already established TAP sales counters
Picture 6: Traceability restaurants allow patrons to scan the QR codes on the menu and easily access information on the “who”, “where”, and “how” of the food ingredient production.
(3) Increase the number of counselors (pic. 7)
Since 2014 the TAP Counselor Training System was gradually established. In 2015, 4 rounds of educational training courses on group certification management were organized, where a total of 174 people participated and 139 out them passed the program to become intern counselors. Some of them were instructors from traditional farmers' associations and cooperatives, while others were buyers for retailers and assemblers of farm products.
Picture 7: The COA actively organized TAP Counselor Training Courses to prepare outstanding counselors with TAP group planning, establishment, management and operation capabilities.
(4) Develop user-friendly input interface APPs (pic. 8)
Develop field management APP for farmers to reduce the labor and management costs of joining TAP by using mobile devices such as smart phones which can significantly simplify registration procedure. Other electronic information systems featuring farm management functions such as the Smart Agri-management Platform (SAMP) developed by the Institute for Information Industry (III) and the Agrepm APP developed by COA’s Information Center, also offer an interface to avoid repetitive uploading.
Picture 8: The Agrepm APP developed by the COA allows farmers to complete the task of recording daily operations on their cell phones instead of using the computer.
(5) Enhance accreditation control
Regarding the professional capability of accreditation agency, the Taiwan Accreditation Foundation (TAF) not only continued to accredit according to international regulation, but also began to conduct unannounced inspections since 2015 for the purpose of effectively discovering key deficiency and providing the system with crucial data for correction. Also, retraining programs are organized for investigators to elevate their investigative capacity. In the last three years (from 2013 to 2015), authorities concerned and certification agencies carried out approximately 3000 product testing each year, and the average qualification rate was 98.64%, which assured a stable quality of certification.
(6) Food and agriculture education take root in younger generation (pic. 9)
The Little TAP Pioneers event attracted approximately a thousand participants in 2014, and it continued to take place in 2015, calling elementary school teachers and students to blend food and agriculture education into daily life through classroom teaching, supermarket visit, drama, technology and catering practice. Currently there are 80 classes and over 2500 teachers, students and parents taking part in TAP promotional campaigns.
Picture 9: TAP education is taking root in younger generation through events such as Little TAP Pioneers, which is well-received by primary school teachers, students and parents.
(7) Improve the linkage with the world
Taking GLOBALGAP as the objective, the Council has continued to strengthen counseling and certification capacity since 2010. In 2015 the COA invited GLOBALGAP and JGAP to discuss system cooperation. Both sides have reached the agreement of developing some way to issuing two certificates per audit.
Although the content of current TAP system stresses on safety and sustainability of agricultural products while implementing traceability with open information, it is solely on a voluntary basis. It should be positioned mainly as an important way for manufacturers to satisfy consumers' expectation on legal compliance. The agricultural industry could undergo a positive upgrade through market influence. As for the government policies of upholding food safety and promoting sustainable agriculture, must rely on more complete regulation framework, risk management and industrial counseling as principal focus instead of an accreditation system on a voluntary basis.
Taking the voluntary TAP system implementation into consideration, agricultural product operators need to assess the benefit of joining the system. If the profit is greater than the cost, they are more likely to participate and continue to be certified. Therefore, the COA would maintain three principal strategies, namely “Making it easier to join TAP”, “More advantages through TAP”, and “Maintaining system value and accreditation quality”, so it may successfully promote the sustainable development of TAP system and protect farmer's profit as well as consumer's interests.