Proving traceability of livestock and meat products is getting a lot of momentum, because of the European horsemeat scandal, according to the chairman of the New Zealand RFID Pathfinder Group, Mark Rance, who is also ICT manager for ANZCO Foods.
Ultra high frequency radio frequency identification (UHF RFID) technology used in conjunction with the Electronic Product Code (EPC) suite of global standards, is the RFID of choice for use in global supply chains. It’s the reason the industry’s RFID Pathfinder Group chose to conduct the trial. While the EPC based RFID system is currently used for some kiwifruit pack house implementations in New Zealand and has been used in trials conducted in Sweden on fish, among others, it’s the first time it has been trialled in the complex area of chain traceability following live animals from farm through to retail across international borders.
Rance explains there are two areas where the UHF RFID technology has benefits over the low frequency RFID, which is currently used by National Identification and Tracing (NAIT) to trace animals from farm to plant.
“The first is on-farm where the technology can be used to enable more efficient productivity improvements. The second is in the supply chain, where using technology seamlessly from the source right the way through to the end customer, in this case a customer based in Germany, gives one end-to-end system.”
Meat produced from a mob of 19 deer at Downlands Deer in South Canterbury, then processed at Mountain River Processors was followed all the way through to retail customers in Hamburg, Germany.
The deer were tagged on-farm with passive (no battery) UHF RFID ear tags. Over a six week period, from late October to early December 2012, a selection of the processed venison cuts in cartons and the shipping container were tagged, to investigate and assess the effectiveness of the UHF RFID tags and the EPCglobal Network for livestock and red meat traceability within a real export scenario, Rance explains. The researchers also used Active RFID (battery powered) tags to monitor the temperature of individual cartons during the entire shipping period.
All tag data was successfully read, from all of the designated read ‘event’ points and recorded in the EPC Information System (EPCIS) database. The trial proved chain traceability at a batch level, the report says. “There is a demonstrable and reliable association between the finished cartons of venison cuts at a batch level of animals recorded in the EPCIS.”
The trial did not attempt to use the technology to provide a one-to-one relationship with animal and cuts. “Although the technology does have the potential to be integrated with other processing room data capture and control systems, this was not part of this initiative but is going to be looked at in future work,” Rance says.
“One of the main concerns from offshore customers currently, is to clearly demonstrate that the meat is from New Zealand; in other words, its origin is authentic and this technology goes a long way in proving this.”
Recommendations have been made to trial the technology and network on cattle and sheep. Facing the same demands, New Zealand meat’s global competitors are also gearing up in a similar field.
“The Australians, for example, recently launched a new programme with its own animal identification scheme and it’s important to keep ahead”, says Rance.
The collaborative trial was funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund, GS1 New Zealand, Deer Industry NZ, FarmIQ, ANZCO Foods, Downlands Deer and Mountain River Processors. The National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) body and BT9 also supported the project.
The New Zealand RFID Pathfinder Group is a not-for-profit, Incorporated Society driving the adoption of EPC UHF RFID standards in New Zealand through education programmes, feasibility pilots and trials. Pathfinder has been working closely with NAIT, which has provided for the use of EPC numbers into its system architecture. Unfortunately, the low frequency NAIT and UHF RFID systems are not compatible; however, in time, there might be a migration over to UHF technology.