Uncertain Certification: Do CEIV-Pharma standards really help?

Solving a complex puzzle

There are several outstanding criticisms being leveled at IATA’s CEIV-Pharma program. Some say that it’s too complex and expensive, which excludes smaller players, while others point out that its focus on airfreight limits its scope. Finally, there’s the argument that IATA’s pharma certification is redundant.

For at least one critic, the issues are systemic. “The biggest problem I have, personally, is a for-profit mentality overcoming the good of the industry,” said SASI’s Wraight, who has his own ideas for cost-cutting. He said he wants IATA to send companies a detailed set of instructions and requirements for certification, for a nominal fee, and once the required measures are implemented, Wraight wants IATA to conduct an audit, all for a few thousand dollars.

This isn’t the first time IATA has heard proposals of this nature. “Sometimes they ask about doing a ‘lighter version’ of certification,” said IATA’s assistant director of cargo/ground handling, Ronald Schaefer, who runs the CEIV program. “But if we create different kinds of programs here, we would lose credibility.” Schaefer contended that the CEIV standard is ambitious. “Anything else would be rejected by the pharma shippers,” he said. “It’s all about rebuilding trust with them.”

Schaefer explained that removing steps would not be fair to companies that already underwent certification. “We need to be consistent,” he said. “The approach needs to be the same for everyone.”

While it’s possible to criticize the financial structuring of certification, there’s a more stubborn obstacle in the way of certification – the infrastructure upgrades required to properly handle and store sensitive pharmaceuticals. It’s like this. Formula 1 cars cost tens of millions of dollars, and cheaper cars simply won’t do. That means that many aspiring racecar drivers are priced out of the game. The same principles apply to pharma transport, with the price tag for upgrades sometimes being quite steep, especially when facilities need to be built from scratch.

“You have to commit a pretty good amount of money to temperature-controlled infrastructure, and obviously you can’t do that everywhere,” agreed Brandon Fried, executive director at the U.S. Airforwarders Association (AfA). “It can be an expensive niche, and that’s probably why you don’t have a lot of smaller freight forwarders jumping into it.”

Even for bigger companies, such as Swissport Cargo Services at Frankfurt, CEIV-Pharma certification can take a while – in their case, almost two years. The ground handler’s station manager Philip Roodenburg explained that much of that delay was due to the time required for reviewing their existing processes, designing new ones, and looking for partners for mapping and monitoring. “The biggest challenge was to get the construction permit from the local authorities and our existing two-to-eight degrees Celsius cool room,” Roodenburg said.

K+N’s Fujike agreed, calling it an “economic question, plus one of capabilities.” He raised another criticism, asking whether the current CEIV-Pharma standards are too narrow.

Explaining that most forwarders are multimodal, Fujike complained that CEIV was only designed for airfreight. “Shippers are looking for a logistics standard for all modes, and that’s what we are still missing,” he said. “There is no seafreight, overland, warehousing and airfreight industry standard for moving pharma goods now. For the shippers, and even for us, it’s still not doing the trick because it’s only covering a certain portion of the supply chain.”

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