by Dr CL Williams and Dr PC Wootton-Beard Farming Connect Knowledge Exchange
Hub, IBERS, Aberystwyth University
thERE is an increasing demand from consumers for more information about their food which in addition to several highly-publicised ‘food scandals’ have put meat traceability high on the agenda. As such, there is a need for everyone involved to have a good knowledge of the range of traceability technologies that are available in order to meet the expectations of their customers.
in terms of product identification, most technologies rely on the attachment of some form of ‘tag’, containing information about it that travels all the way to market. A standard example is the radio frequency identification (RFiD) tag attached to animals.
the focus in this area has been miniaturisation using advanced materials to create micro/nanoelectronics which can be attached to a wide range of products. Chemical approaches are also being developed, where chemical tags are used to categorise certain products, particularly in terms of quality or origin.
Genetic analysis may also be used to authenticate food, particularly in response to issues of food contamination. Genetic testing has become less expensive, quicker, and more reliable in recent years, allowing it to be applied far and wide. Agriculture will also be heavily influenced by developments in remote sensors and global positioning systems (GPS), which can provide valuable and comprehensive information about farming activities. this approach will help farmers to make decisions to change/optimise their operations, as well as provide information to customers.
traceability technologies are also applied to the security of farm animals. For example, spray markers containing forensically coded microdots have been developed in response to a drastic increase in sheep thefts in the north of England. the microdots are virtually impossible to remove and are coupled with an early warning system, which alerts neighbouring farms, abattoirs, police and auction houses. the spray can also be applied to farm vehicles and machinery, another common target for rural thieves.
Emerging smart technologies can benefit the entire food supply chain, providing innovative options for improved traceability as well as in-depth information that can be used by farmers and consumers alike.