New directions in the organic supply chain

As the organic food sector has grown on a global scale over recent years, there has also been an evolution in how these food products are stored, shipped and monitored through the supply chain.

With the focus on product quality control, advanced supply chain technologies are being deployed throughout the organic food sector.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is already being deployed in the organic beef sector to help ensure both product quality and adherence to government food safety regulations (in Australia, the National Livestock Identification System legislation mandated, in 2005, RFID tagging for cattle stock).

As a result of this push, organic beef producers in the country are tagging individual animals with RFID, ensuring rapid and accurate traceability as they move through the livestock chain.

RFID technology is also helping organic beef producers to meet one of the key drivers to growth in the organic sector, as identified by Farmers of Australia’s General Manager, Holly Vyner – ‘buying food produced with animal welfare’ in mind.

The Expert Committee on Organic Agriculture (ECOA) and Animal Welfare Task Force (AWTF) identifies in its publication ‘Animal Welfare on Organic Farms’ that in relation to cattle branding, ‘cattle should not be branded (given it can be a painful procedure for the cattle) alternative methods of identification such as RFID tags should be used.’

International regulations

Today, the majority of organic food is sold through mainstream supermarkets and therefore local organic food exporters need to adhere to stricter international food safety regulations if they want to access growing global markets.

In 2005 the EU mandated that all food and feed businesses must have effective systems and records to ensure that all foodstuffs, animal feed and ingredients can be traced throughout the food chain (‘from farm to fork’). Known as the ‘one-step-backward, one-step-forward’ approach, each business must be able to tell who all their suppliers are and who they supply to themselves (with the exception of consumers). They should also have withdrawal/recall procedures for unsafe food, and must notify authorities immediately in the event of a food and/or feed safety scare.

Organic food producers, manufacturers and their retailers alike can take advantage of advanced track and trace technology to help meet international food safety standards and quickly identify and locate organic foodstuffs that may be affected by a recall.

Using barcode or RFID technology to automatically capture serial numbers or lot codes on cartons processed at distribution centres and received in retail environments, provides a new level of traceability without requiring time-consuming manual data collection.

By accurately and efficiently capturing organic food product codes, retailers could target their recalls so unaffected organic products would not have to be pulled from stores and that customers perceptions aren’t unduly influenced by one particular suppliers organic produce – compared with all organic foodstuffs in the store having to be taken off the shelves.

Advanced barcode and RFID technologies can also aide organic food producers to back up their claims about how food products are raised or grown and where they have come from.

This is particularly relevant to the organic food sector given the rise in popularity around what is known as the ‘100 mile diet’.

Locating local

The ‘100 mile diet’, made famous by two Canadians who only ate food from within 100 miles of the where they were eating, is widely touted as minimising the impact on the environment, contributing to the local community and in many cases, ensuring greater freshness due to lesser transit times.

Obviously, of integral importance for people who are looking to follow the rigorous requirements of the diet (who are known as locavores) is the assurance that the food is in fact, from within 100 miles. In the case of this specific niche market, both RFID and bar code technology can help organic food retailers provide accurate and credible information as to where the food has come from and where it has been prior to coming in contact with the consumer.

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