By Gary Hartley of GS1 New Zealand
Food traceability has many uses. Perhaps most obvious is the re-assurance that a particular food product is what it appears to be. Providing the right level of verification might not be as easy as it sounds, especially when the product in question is going into a consumer market distant in geography, culture and food preparation practice.
The New Zealand meat industry is increasingly interested in product authenticity as a basic driver for traceability systems in its trade with distant export markets. Our growing supply of halal red meat product to markets in the Middle East and Asia is an excellent case in point – and it’s an excellent area for the next trialing of RFID-based traceability technology out of New Zealand.
The GS1 organisations in this country and Malaysia have joined with ANZCO Foods to trial the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard for RFID on a shipment destined for Malaysian consumers. It is an important next step in the development of EPC/RFID for our export meat industry and, indeed, for the international sharing of technical information on food traceability systems under the GS1 Global umbrella.
Many New Zealand meat processing plants are halal certified for supply to Muslim consumers here and internationally. Exports of halal meat and edible offal are currently estimated at around $2.5 billion per annum.
ANZCO’s Kokiri plant near Greymouth is one such certified plant and the trial shipment of EPC-tagged offal products left from there during late April. GS1 and ANZCO applied RFID tags to over 100 cartons in the shipment: These were railed in a shipping container from the West Coast to Lyttelton and then shipped to Port Klang, Malaysia, over a three week period.
Each carton was uniquely identified with its own serialised Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) that could be read at each ‘event point’ from production (ie: meat put into cartons) and at ten subsequent event points in the supply chain. The final read occurred as the container was de-consolidated in an importer’s warehouse in Malaysia. The container itself was also given a unique identification number (Global Individual Asset Identifier – GIAI) encoded into a RFID tag before leaving the processing plant in Kokiri and an additional GPS enabled RFID tag was attached at the Malaysian border for added Malaysian Customs and security purposes.
At each of the 11 steps in the supply chain, information regarding details of each carton, the shipping container or both were read as was the relevant read event location, the business step/process occurring at the location and the event time-stamps. This information was transmitted as XML fi les to a web-based repository based in Malaysia known as an EPCIS (Electronic Product Code Information Service); part of a global standards- based, distributed network of EPCIS implementations providing interoperability between servers providing capture and query capability for event data.
An important feature of this trial beyond previous EPCIS research undertaken by the group was to test and examine data interoperability between EPCIS implementations in different geographic locations. The core purpose was, of course, to authenticate the product as halal through traceability of particular cartons back to a correctly-certified point of production in New Zealand. To achieve this, the researchers queried EPC data stored in the Malaysian EPCIS using an EPCIS server based in Hong Kong. Given the researchers were able to query any EPC number (carton or shipping container) in the Malaysian EPCIS from the Hong Kong EPCIS server and were able to obtain comprehensive details on the ‘what, where, why and when’ of the items, rich traceability, product authentication and provenance information was provided thereby demonstrating EPCIS efficacy.
The trial’s success will also be measured by the accuracy and comprehensiveness of read data, and the accessibility and utility of all data accumulated and held using this EPC-IS application. Report back is expected to be rapid in the next month or so.
The halal trial shipment with Malaysia will build on the experience and knowledge of EPC/RFID already acquired by both GS1 New Zealand and The New Zealand RFID Pathfinder Group and technology suppliers through their 2012 all-of-supply-chain trial with venison supplied to Germany, and through earlier on-farm trials with various livestock types.
There is international interest as well, particularly among leaders in the current European traceability product initiative of an organisation called ‘UNCEFACT’ (the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business). UNCEFACT is looking to work with GS1 (and EPCIS in particular) in a major European based exercise investigating traceability on pigs and pork – and the work we are doing “down under” is directly relevant.