What to trace

Cheming Yang

In our life, we would love to be able to trace back a lot of things. For instance, some people want to trace back their lineages and search out their ancestors because it is important for them to find out their roots and get peace of mind by knowing who they are and where they come from. This might not be a good example of how traceability might impact people’s daily life. How about medical records? We want to keep our medical records available for several years to come so that doctors can trace back to what happens to their patients in the past in order to make informed decisions.

The ability to trace back on certain things does have potentially positive influence on our daily life. The availability of traceability is important in product liability in terms of the need to look into what happens when things go wrong. All consumer products poentially have product liabilities issues. However, some products are more vulnerable than the other.  For instance, smartphones might explode and food might be poisonous.

In 2008, there is a food safety incident in China involving milk and infant formula adulterated with melamine. In 2011, there is also another food safety scandal in Taiwan over the use of one plasticizer, DEHP, to replace palm oil in food and drinks as a clouding agent. The chemical agent has been linked to developmental problems with children as it affects hormones.

Once this kind of mishap happens, the general public will cry out who did this. What can we do in terms of soritng out liability issues and preventing similar disasters from happening again?

In a society of mass production, even the simplest consumer product has its components from all over the places and has been handled through numerous processes and hands. It might even have travlled the world to reach consumers’ hands. So there is a book published in 2005 entitled “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy.”

In the end, it is not easy to catch the perpetrater in the chain of production. That is eactly why traceability is important in consumer protection. If the production history is recorded as the product passing hands, it is easier to figure out who did what afterwards. It is achievable but comes at a price. How detailed we need to record along the way is the core issue. The more detailed, the better for truth seeking in the future. However, on the converse, the more detailed, the more burdensome and costlier for the producers. So it is easy to say that we need to establish a tracebility system, but it is a quite demanding job to actually construct one. Nonetheless, this is the right direction and needs the concerted effort of both the conusmers and the producers in addition to governmental policies.




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