Velvet has medicinal properties long-recognised in these North Asian societies. And New Zealand, the world’s pioneer in deer farming, is their major source by volume and quality. It’s a $28 million export trade for this country – growth prospects received a further shot in the arm with the signing of the Korea-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement last December.
By Gary Hartley of GS1 New Zealand
Sticks of velvet are small and delicate. And their high value to buyers in the health and food industries of Korea, China and Taiwan rests heavily on the New Zealand provenance of each shipment, and its accompanying assurances on quality and food safety. Velvet is definitely an export worthy of our best shot at world-class traceability.
Deer Industry New Zealand, major velvet exporters and others are looking at the use of RFID based on the EPC (Electronic Product Code standard) for just such traceability. RFID tags would be attached to each uniquely-identified stick of product, enabling track and trace throughout the supply chain. North Asian buyers – some of their energy drinks are easily found on www.alibaba.com – are very keen on being able to demonstrate the authenticity of New Zealand “deer antler” in their products. They are also highly familiar with the global numbering for unique identification and with EPC/RFID for best-practice traceability.
The New Zealand industry does, of course, have some traceability in place today. Our 1 million deer are farmed to the highest standards of animal health and welfare – Geraldine and Te Anau are just two of various South Island districts with a concentration of deer units – and this includes great care during the harvest of velvet. The latter occurs in the final three months of the calendar year. As each stick is moved from the animal, it is numbered and has a manual-read tag attached to identify its farm source and harvest date.
Most of the velvet is frozen fresh and exported in that state over the following three or four months. Significant other volume is dried and processed to some degree in New Zealand and most of this is also sold to overseas buyers. In total, around 500 tonnes was exported during 2013-14. Prices have been steadily rising in recent years.
Velvet is a classic example of the low volume/high value product that can be vulnerable to counterfeiting (with regard to origin) or even adulteration in the supply chain. There’s no suspicion on these problems around New Zealand’s velvet trade today. It’s also the case that this product’s high value and ease of handling, and tagging, make it ideal for EPC/RFID. The costs are reasonable and the returns potentially high in terms of building (and protecting) the New Zealand brand and further stimulation of demand in affluent North Asia.
This is one of several EPC/RFID initiatives underway, or soon to be, as New Zealand’s primary sector moves into 2015. The timing is excellent, with export markets ever more receptive to the benefits of traceability, and with the efficacy and costs of tags and readers vastly improved on a few years ago. The technology and its use are proven. All power to New Zealand producers, marketers and exporters who are ready to take the next steps.