A new report from the Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) has compared and ranked 21 Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries on their respective food traceability regulations.

Of all the countries studied, the report gave the highest rankings to European Union countries when it came to global food traceability and requirements.

“While there are a variety of benefits to global trading of food items, there are also many complications, particularly when it comes to tracing products internationally in the event of foodborne illness, animal or plant disease, or product recall,” says Sylvain Charlebois, professor at the University of Guelph and one of the authors of the GFTC report. “This report provides a comparative assessment to aid in discussions concerning harmonization of food traceability requirements and where countries can continue to focus on improvements.”

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) launched the Global Food Traceability Center in September 2013 to collaborate and serve as a resource for food traceability.

EU countries were ranked as superior, with the report’s authors praising regulations that cover a broad range of foods and animal products of both domestic and imported origins.

The US received average rankings for its Food Safety Modernization Act, but the authors voiced strong concern that the regulations are still in the early stages of development.

The authors say they like the robust identification and labeling requirements of packaged food products, but note the US is one of two major beef producing countries without a national cattle identification or traceability system.

Other countries ranked as average included Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.

China received poor marks since its traceability system is still in development and largely unregulated.

Not enough information was available from Russia to sufficiently score the country.

According to GFTC, the report’s authors evaluated and ranked each country’s aggregate responses to a series of questions developed to assess their traceability policies and programs.

Questions included whether mandatory traceability regulations exist at the national level; if regulations include imported products and the nature of required documentation for imports; if an electronic database for traceability exists and, if present, its accessibility; and if labeling regulations allow consumers access to help them understand traceability.

“Currently, the complexity of following food through a global supply chain makes the process of traceability slow and inefficient in times of crisis,” says Brian Sterling, managing director of GFTC and one of the authors of the report. “This is why it’s imperative that traceability requirements and regulations be harmonized across the globe. Industry and regulators need to minimize the potential for misunderstanding and delays due to difficulties in understanding each country’s practices. Harmonizing requirements has been shown to mitigate unnecessary costs of compliance.”