Radioactive Fish: Good Traceability, Visibility, Vendor Management Needed in Fresh Food Supply Chain

Earlier this week, the LA Times reported that the company responsible for operating the Fukushima nuclear power plant had found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the acceptable, legal limit in "a seawater sample taken near the facility." Moreover, Japanese officials "detected more than 4,000 bequerels of iodine-131 per kilogram in a type of fish called a sand lance caught less than three miles offshore of the town of Kita-Ibaraki. The young fish also contained 447 bequerels of cesium-137, which is considered more problematic than iodine-131 because it has a much longer half-life." Sometimes it takes an epic tragedy and disaster of the magnitude of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan to call attention to a subject that warrants much closer attention. In Spend Matters view, traceability and accountability in the fresh foods supply chain is one crucial area that we don't pay enough attention to.

We think that it's ironic that the US Federal government seems much more concerned about tracking conflict minerals from Africa in countries where GDP is <$1,000 per head -- and where human lives have been held in much less esteem, judging from the history of massacres and child soldiers -- yet when it comes to assuring safety in our food and related supply chains, the appropriate Federal and state authorities are nearly completely out to lunch. Consider popular fish oil supplements, which may contain more than just traces of heavy metals -- and perhaps radiation now, as well -- if they come from certain fish in different parts of the world, are not required to be tested on the batch level for safety (in our house, we pay a 3X premium for a brand that tests every batch).

Now, don't get us wrong. We're strong supporters of conflict mineral legislation (even if it does little to impact deaths and tragedies in Africa, simply reducing the funds that fuel wars and pillaging in region, requiring now less-wealthy mercenary gangs to fight with machetes rather than machine guns). Yet when fresh produce (e.g., strawberries) is frequently served in the United States with levels of pesticides and other nasties known to cause cancer and a new outbreak of salmonella seems to happen every week, we can't help but wonder if our Federally-focused traceability and supplier management efforts in the food supply chain might take the same level of precedence as Frank-Dodd. Perhaps as vendors like Food Link begin to provide greater traceability in the fresh foods supply chain, we'll begin to pave a foundation for higher safety standards and visibility once retailers, distributors and providers finish going after the low hanging fruit -- sorry, could not resist -- of inventory and "perishable-ness" first.

Jason Busch

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