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Food and Livestock Tagging Expected to See Bumper Gains

The sector is expected to be the dominant RFID market by 2017, when sales of RFID tags for food and livestock are slated to reach $2.66 billion.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 02, 2007As a result of government programs and mandates, RFID technology for tracking animals and food has been marching forward throughout various regions of the world. According to "RFID for Animals, Food and Farming 2007-2017," a report published in October by British research and analysis firm IDTechEx, the food market (including the tagging of farm animals and the tracking of fresh produce through the supply chain) will rank as the largest RFID market by 2017.

For farming, food and animals (both livestock and pets), the report forecasts, worldwide sales of RFID tags will rise from $233 million in 2007 to $2.93 billion in 2017, with livestock and food applications accounting for 90 percent of that total. What's more, it indicates, sales of RFID systems (including tags) used for farming, food and animals will rise from $531 million in 2007 worldwide to $6.53 billion in 2017.

Peter Harrop
"Two years ago, most people in the industry thought the story was about the United States, Wal-Mart and UHF," says Peter Harrop, chairman and founder of IDTechEx. "They were wrong on all counts." In fact, Harrop maintains, growth is taking place outside the United States, with government support and, most commonly, with high-frequency (HF) tags.

Government support and legislation, IDTechEx reports, has made the tagging of animals and food products commonplace in some unexpected areas, such as Botswana and Uruguay. Those two nations, along with New Zealand, Australia and Canada, have been tagging cows and other four-legged animals on a wide scale to provide traceability, as well as reduce the chance of mass food-supply contamination. Other countries, including those in the European Union, are looking to issue mandates in the coming years for the same animals, while the United States has no plans in place for such a mandate.

Those using animal tags are still deploying rugged low-frequency (LF) tags with a coil antenna that can withstand water and damage caused by animals. However, countries in Asia are finding ways to use HF tags with a 50 to 400 percent greater read range, and are looking toward tags based on standards other than EPCglobal's—which some countries, namely in east Asia, find too reliant on high-cost technology. Instead, they are using the ucode, a 28-bit identifying number that can be employed in place of an Electronic Product Code (EPC) number, in pilots in seven Asian countries. The ucode is being advanced by the Ubiquitous ID Center, a nonprofit research organization (see Japanese Promote Ubiquitous RFID).

Though the use of RFID tags is growing rapidly for farm animals, and also for pets, the tagging of cases and pallets for retail purposes has not undergone the same growth. This, Harrop says, is because the Wal-Mart mandate put too much pressure on suppliers that couldn't (or wouldn't) invest in a technology offering what they saw as limited benefits.

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