On June 7, it is World Food Safety Day. The day is marked to raise awareness of the importance of food safety for human health and sustainable development. A flexible, effective and accessible digital system, fully compatible with the EU requirements on traceability and food safety, helps to make a difference.
At a time when consumers demand transparency and visibility in all processes, animal identification and recording systems seems to be unparalleled management tools in animal health and food safety for countries like Georgia, where a high proportion of rangeland and pastures makes livestock an important component of the national agricultural economy and rural livelihood.
In 2016, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC), in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), embarked on a new project in a bid to support Georgia in developing digital animal identification and traceability systems with all technical features to record and monitor data on farm holdings and various animals. By virtue of the National Identification and Traceability Systems (NAITS) project, Georgia will have its first fully-functional digital National Animal Identification and Traceability System (NAITS) in 2021.
“For the past 25 years, Switzerland has been contributing to the sustainable development of Georgia,” says Danielle Meuwly, Regional Director, Swiss Cooperation Office for the South Caucasus, Embassy of Switzerland. “Our efforts have focused on the improvement of the productivity of the livestock sector. Food safety is an important building block in this regard, because the way in which food is produced, stored and consumed affects its safety and people’s health. It requires the broad-based participation of the government, its institutions, professionals, donor organizations and consumers. Such an ambitious, country-wide undertaking needs to be supported by a pertinent digital system, which would, inter alia, modernize traditional practices. We are happy to be part of this project and thereby contribute to the health of the people living in or visiting Georgia.”
From Farm to Fork
While the name “National Identification and Traceability Systems” is quite self-explanatory, in practical terms it means permanent identification and traceability ‘from farm to fork’. This phrase was coined for a system of identification of animal products back to farm premises.
The NAITS project was designed to help farmers, producers and relevant government agencies, such as the National Food Agency (NFA), coordinate policies pertaining to animal health more effectively. The system helps the NFA to keep a real-time data on farm animals and with this, contain disease outbreaks more effectively. The digital system also enables an animal product to be traced back to an animal’s farm of origin, and, in case of disease outbreak, for necessary swift measures to be taken. This system ultimately serves to ensure food safety in the country and also helps to eventually boost meat export potential to EU countries, which have more stringent rules on imports of animal origin.
Setting up a digital system is just one technical aspect of the project. For the system to succeed and prove to be functional and sustainable, smooth cooperation from farmers, slaughterhouses and veterinarians need to take place so that new-born farm animals are reflected in the system, their movement properly registered and de-registered in slaughterhouses in due time. For this to function properly, a legal framework for the implementation and enforcement of animal identification and traceability was updated, and NFA personnel, 125 government veterinarians and 44 veterinary inspectors, supported by 600 private veterinarians, were trained on using and complying with the system.
Ensuring cooperation from all the stakeholders to keep real-time data on animals is a lengthy process and, apart from trainings and equipping, adequate incentive mechanisms need to be put in place so that all involved stakeholders are engaged in using the digital system. The second phase of the project will focus more on wider stakeholder engagement and incentive mechanisms, including policy dialogue to foster sustainable handover of the project to the NFA.
“NFA’s veterinarians are actively involved in the implementation of project activities,” says deputy head of the NFA, Vasil Basiladze. “Measures undertaken so far have contributed to the improvement of animal identification, as well as the traceability of both animals and animal products. The next phase of the project will be vital for a successful completion of the initiated process. Animal identification and traceability is an important and integral part of the ‘from farm to fork’ production chain, ultimately contributing to rooting high standards, and to improving the export potential and competitiveness of Georgian products.”
The project is being implemented in Georgia; however, the system and its impact is not limited to the geographical borders of the country. The functional animal identification and traceability system will considerably enhance access to the regional markets of live animals and animal products. In this respect, the project will explore the avenues for developing compatible systems in Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the meantime, though, the project made its name in the far country of North Macedonia. The officials of the Republic have requested the project to facilitate the knowledge exchange on Georgian NAITS with a view to updating the existing system currently in place.
The project “National Identification and Traceability Systems” is co-funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) and implemented by the UN Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO). The project was launched in 2016 with the total budget of CHF 5’335’000. The current phase of the project will be closed by the end of 2021.
Photo by Goga Chanadiri