Improving the Safety of the Food We Eat
Protecting people and animals
During the past few years, both North America and Europe have experienced alarming outbreaks of disease among livestock, including BSE. In Asia, the spread of bird flu has shaken the confidence of millions of consumers. Each time an infectious disease breaks out in a flock or herd, farmers and health officials look for ways to isolate the problem and limit the impact on consumers.
Tracking livestock for public health
RFID is helping officials ensure public health, protect farms and stop/reduce the billions of dollars in losses that can be caused by ailing livestock. In Canada and other countries, cattle identification programmes stipulate that cattle must wear RFID-enabled ear tags so that an animal can be traced back to its herd of origin. When cattle move through a stall as they head for a processing plant, a reader collects the unique identification number on the animal's ear tag. This can be done even if a tag is caked with dirt or mud, since RFID can be read without a line of sight.
The cow’s tag is read at other key points, and information is saved in a database. If a bad batch of meat is discovered, the information collected via RFID can be used to find out which cattle were exposed to similar conditions. Or, if an animal is ill, RFID can help identify the animal for removal from the herd as quickly as possible.
Guarantee of fresh eggs
A similar system in Spain uses RFID to track eggs that are sold in liquid form. Producers put RFID tags on racks of eggs so that they can find out where eggs were laid if a problem arises with this highly perishable food. The tags on the racks are read at different points as they are transported from the producer to the processing plant. This allows a single egg to be traced back to its point of origin in order to confirm that the poultry was cared for properly and kept in hygienic conditions.
Controlled baby food and coffee
Besides livestock, RFID is a proven means of tracing the origin of other products, such as baby food or fair-trade coffee. In early 2007, authorities warned consumers to avoid particular jars of baby food from a certain producer because they might contain dangerous bacteria. Had the producer used RFID to manage the production of its baby food – from the time it purchased the ingredients until it shipped the food –the problem might have been detected at an early stage and the contaminated food not delivered to stores.
More examples: as globalisation spreads, many consumers have opted to buy fair-trade food. Producers of this type of food assure their customers that the farmers who plough the soil and harvest the food get a fair share of the profits. One such group of producers in Colombia is using RFID with Electronic Product Codes (EPC) to prove to suppliers that their coffee comes from small, authorised growers.
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A Common RFID Strategy
Research and development of RFID in Europe more ...