The companies that produce the perishable commodities are most familiar with them and are best able to define their qualities, The quality definition should be a confidential matter between the seller and the buyer; the properties need not be declared unless a dispute arises, The carriers should not need to know the condition of individual cargoes because the shipper should declare that the goods are fit for transportation under specific carriage conditions of certain limited duration. The willingness of a producer/shipper to declare fitness for carriage should be a strong indication of the level of confidence in the product and its quality, temperature and durability.
If a declaration of fitness for carriage is received, the carrier only needs to know whether the packaging is intact and appropriate for the anticipated handling and whether the product is received within previously agreed temperature tolerances. The carrier should discern whether the conditions requested are adequately described; if not, a risk is involved in the decision to accept the cargo. The carrier should know whether it can provide the conditions requested. Finally, the receiver should be able to demonstrate that the quality received does or does not match expectations.
If a dispute about quality arises, the shipper should be able to demonstrate the validity of the claim of fitness for carriage; the carrier should be able to demonstrate adequately that it has provided the requested conditions of carriage; and the consignee should be able to demonstrate that the product has moved outside its acceptable quality range in relation to contractual description between shipper and consignee.
The settlement of responsibility for quality loss should depend on the documented evidence of quality control at all stages between production, transportation and receipt of goods (Figure 4), In other words, total quality management (TQM) is needed throughout the transportation chain and positive systems of control must be adopted.
Successful implementation of TQM systems requires effective training of key personnel within food and carrier companies and of quality standards enforcement officers, Furthermore, to ensure that products leave the hands of the producer in defined condition and pass to the carrier in the same defined condition also requires independent assessment by surveyors holding internationally recognized qualifications, conversant in quality management techniques and capable of assessing the risk to products involved in individual operations, This observation is in line with the 1991 recommendations that FAO continue to develop procedures for inspection and sampling and help developing countries to improve import/export controls (Lupien, 1993). Independent assessors would verify the quantity, the condition and integrity of the packaging, the presence of any visible defects, the temperature conditions under which the product was loaded and the temperatures of the cargo itself.
Post-shipment surveys are commonplace, but pre-shipment surveys are less common, not least because of the cost. However, from the viewpoint of cargo interests and carriers’ insurance interests, pre-shipment surveys under the conditions described would lead to greater levels of certainty that perishable commodities could be successfully carried, and would contribute greatly to the attribution of responsibility should disputes arise.
There is a need for specialist knowledge in the hands of independent assessors, who could also be surveyors, to pursue on behalf of insurers the validity of producers’ records leading to the declaration of fitness for carriage, A successful assessment would require detailed specialist knowledge of the nature of food commodities and the hazards to which they are subject, and could lead to a new breed of independent professionals capable of investigating and protecting the interests of producers, carriers or consignees.
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