Traceability in food production is increasingly in demand, with calls for accurate information on farming inputs and practices, so that the consumer can know exactly where food comes from – and what has gone into producing it.
For farmers, this can be a headache, with greater demands on their time in the form of paperwork and record keeping. So, what technology is available to record traceability information for farmers, without draining valuable resources?
The International Organisation for Standardisation defines traceability as the ‘ability to follow movement of feed or food through specific stage(s) of production, processing and distribution’. In essence, traceability is the collection, documentation, maintenance and application of all information related to the production and processes food goes through in the supply chain. It provides information on inputs, locations and history of the product that can assist with crises management in the event of a safety or quality breach, while also contributing to transparency and adding value to products.
Globally, the desire for greater awareness of the origins of food has been driven by a number of factors, including disease scares such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)-salmonella and most recently, avian influenza. On top of this, the international trade of food is continually increasing and unpredictable supplies as well as the perishable nature of food has therefore heightened the need for quality and safety assurance.
In instances of contamination or disease outbreak, traceability can allow for specific identification of what is affected, when, where, how and who is responsible. Though it does not prevent disease outbreaks from occurring, it can help identify the source so that infected produce can therefore be pinpointed and removed from the food chain with ease and speed.
Consumer concerns are one of the major drivers behind traceability, as demand has increased for top quality, safe and nutritious food that is traceable to its origin.
With the development of genetically modified organisms and the interest in organic produce, consumers want to know what they consume and if packaging is labelled accurately. Along with biosecurity concerns, and incidents such as the horse meat scandal, questions have also been raised about the environmental and ecological impacts of farming practices – something farmers have been able to tackle through traceability.
Brand security and market protection are other factors that have stimulated traceability. Having transparency in the supply chain means producers can support claims about the purity of their produce and demand a higher price.
Most recently, fears surrounding antibiotic usage in livestock leading to resistance in humans has led to a real shift in farming practices, with farmers now having to prove that they have not misused antibiotics in livestock production.
By incorporating a system that makes smart use of collected data and connectivity, traceability systems include the identification of produce – whether livestock, arable or horticultural – information about that produce, and linking and transferring this data to the next stage. Complete data connectivity incorporates every stage of traceability monitoring, while enhancing accuracy and speed. Starting on the farm, this goes through the manufacturer, distributor, retailer and onto the consumer, linked by transportation throughout the chain. It comprises an information management system, with scanning and other digital technology for product identification, image capture, storage, non-destructive testing, biosensors for quality and safety assessment and geospatial tracking technology.
With cereal or horticultural crops, tractors and other machinery are now often used for record keeping, with advanced IT systems incorporated into the kit able to collect and transmit data – such as inputs, weather and disease – to farm-based software.
Data solutions allow farmers to keep track of crop and livestock management for the purpose of record keeping and compliance. This technology helps farmers to collectively gather all the information recorded and turn it into useful and accessible data, to provide transparency and traceability in the food chain.
For ultimate productivity and reliability, there needs to be connected collaboration between all parts of the supply chain, working from unified or translatable systems that operate through standardised legislation.
Modern agriculture is driven more and more by data, with this set to increase even further. Innovations that embrace a connectivity network of agricultural solutions are key in reducing costs and increasing production, while consistently producing top quality, safe and traceable products that meet consumer requirements.