New European regulations that mandate the ability to trace the origins of food have now been put in place to control the food chain, solve food scares quickly, and prevent bioterrorism. In Europe, the ''Health and Consumer Protection'' directorate will come into law on January 1st, 2005, while the ''Bioterrorism Act'' in the USA came into effect at the end of December 2003.
According to a new brief by Forrester Research, tagging food with RFID tags will greatly help manufacturers and retailers to comply with the new laws. "To address the problem of food traceability, retailers and consumer packaged goods firms should use RFID tags to meet traceability compliance deadlines, integrate agricultural firms into the food chain, slash product recall costs with case-level RFID tags, and probe RFID''s benefits with a clear business case," explained Forrester senior analyst, Charles Homs. 22.214.171.124 This article is copyright 2004 UsingRFID.com.
But, according to Homs, the regulations don''t specify the use of RFID tags to comply with food safety regulations. However, using the technology to find goods in distribution centres, retail stores, and transport vehicles in transit will help firms respond within the predefined time limits to any official inquiry.
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Traditional tracking technologies (such as ear tags on animals and bar codes on packaged meat) provide data for one or two steps in the food business but they don''t connect up the entire food supply chain. To achieve true forward-and-backward food traceability, Forrester suggests that food firms should turn to technology vendors that offer RFID tags to link unprocessed agricultural products to retail-environment-ready consumer products.
Firms can use RFID in multiple strategies to get a better understanding of: stock control, how goods flow through the supply chain, anti-theft strategies, buying pattern analysis, and food tracking. But, according to Forrester, only 9% of retailers in the US are currently experimenting with RFID tagging, and the majority of CPG manufacturers have no plans to do so yet. Consequently, Forrester recommends that rather than using RFID for multiple purposes, food industry firms should instead focus on food tracking to better understand the business benefits of a limited deployment.
"While the need for more sophisticated food tracing regulations is generally accepted, some basic questions still need to be answered," Homs added. "For instance, EPCglobal, the retailers'' organisation that tries to standardise item numbering, specifies that RFID tags should only contain an electronic product code (EPC)." But while this may suffice in principle, it may not allow for complete traceability across firms that handled the food, as many probably run their operations on a range of different enterprise applications; and without consensus on the data model, regulators may get exactly what they are asking for: traceability one level up or down the supply chain... but not a single step more.
"Also, RFID tags could potentially allow retailers to analyse in great detail which goods have been bought by which consumers," added Homs. "But while consumers worry about potential invasions of privacy, they might also consider the benefits of RFID-tagged food stuffs, such as a greater confidence that genetically modified food or hormone-treated meat won''t end up in their shopping basket unnoticed." Forrester also wisely recommends that, to help put consumers more at ease about their privacy concerns, retailers in particular should provide an opt-in choice regarding the storage and analysis of any data collected.
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