No horsing around in New Zealand’s first meat traceability trial


Gary Hartley

By Gary Hartley of GS1 New Zealand

News report in January: “An Irish meat processor recalled 10 million burgers from supermarkets across Ireland and Britain today, amid fears that many could contain horse meat … Tesco, the supermarket giant that sold the discount burger brand, apologised and said fraud or incompetence was to blame.”

Oh heck! Embarrassment all round in the Irish beef industry but a great reminder to New Zealand on the vital importance of product quality and authenticity in the exporting of food. Quality, authenticity and the big one – food safety – are issues of galloping concern everywhere, especially in Europe and North America. Need one make any further case for RFID-based traceability in our export meat industry?

It so happens that New Zealand sent its first shipment of RFID-tagged meat to Europe in December – a foretaste of what should become standard practice as this technology gets adopted across our exporting primary industries over the years ahead. RFID based on EPC (Electronic Product Code) and EPC-IS (EPC Information Service) standards for identification, data storage and data sharing are a world-best solution for the tracking and tracing of products along any supply chain.

The recent New Zealand experience has been with EPC-RFID on chilled prime venison cuts supplied to Germany in time for Christmas consumption in the Hamburg area. That’s obviously a very different trade from the supply of minced, burger beef by Ireland to supermarkets in the UK. To be blunt, quality and authenticity matter far more in our case. (Food safety is surely of equal concern in any food trade.)

The venison shipment was 19 cartons of high quality chilled product, sourced from a Canterbury deer farm and delivered to a Hamburg-based distributor. Traceability encompassed EPC RFIDtagging of the live animals and of the cartons, with data collected in 11 read events along the supply chain (on the farm, in a processing plant, at the Ports of Lyttleton and Hamburg, and at the German meat distributor’s facility). Each carton also had a temperature logger onboard that transmitted readings automatically at certain times during the shipment.

All the read-event data was stored in one location, able to be accessed by trial participants at any time. The objective was, basically, to create whole-ofsupply- chain visibility on the product: These particular venison cuts could be unequivocally traced back to that farm, with a full history of what happened in-between.

The trial, organised by the NZ RFID Pathfinder Group and ANZCO Foods, has been funded by the Government’s Sustainable Farming Fund with support from Deer Industry NZ and FarmIQ™. There will be comprehensive report back on just how effective and efficient this technology can be in chilled meat export supply chains – and on how its application can be improved for our traceability purposes. It looks to have been a real success.

It is still early days for EPC RFID in New Zealand but this trial is an exciting step forward, not just for the meat industry but for other sectors including horticulture, fisheries, utilities and infrastructure management, and healthcare. They are each sizing up the full potential for this technology – and indeed, that continues to be the case worldwide.

As for the not-so-lucky Irish, they will recover from the burger beef embarrassment: Horse meat is eaten widely in Europe, anyway, and it would make a burger neither more nor less unhealthy. It is fair to say that New Zealand meat exporters have less room to horse around with issues of quality, authenticity and safety (if you forgive the pun).