Gulf oyster industry eyes electronic tracking

Published 10:27 pm Saturday, December 24, 2011

The oyster industry in the Gulf of Mexico is developing an electronic system needed to track oysters for new food safety regulations.

The Courier reported that Gulf states are developing the system, required under measures passed by Congress last year to make it easier to track food-borne illness by tracing food from harvest to table.

The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, a board representing the five Gulf states on fisheries issues, wants to replace the paper tracking process in use today with electronic technology.

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Industry leaders say doing that could make the data more efficient, easier to access and could reduce the cost of complying with new food-safety regulations.

“The leaders of the Gulf oyster industry understand the importance of this effort, and they are eager to participate,” Alex Miller, a staff economist with the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission.  

“This technology allows us to give consumers something that’s transparent,” said Mike Voisin, a member of the state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission and owner of Houma’s Motivatit Seafoods.

The Gulf commission says it is working with a company called Trace Register to develop a voluntary pilot project for oyster producers and harvesters.

Once complete, businesses throughout the supply chain — harvesters dealers, processors, shippers, distributors, grocers and restaurants — will take part in a trial run.

Under the electronic system, officials say they consumers, for example, could get information about oysters via a code that a smartphone could read. A map detailing the oyster’s trip from the Gulf to the store could be included too.

There might even by the option of viewing the harvest site in real time via a webcam one day, officials said.

The electronic system will require some smaller operators to update their businesses with computers, but Voisin said the industry is heading that way anyway.

“When the law says you need to do things in a timely fashion, there needs to be some modifications to how you practice,” Voisin said.