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Vietnamese Seafood Industry to Test RFID

The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers is backing a food traceability pilot that will utilize RFID and bar code technology from IBM and FXA Group to track shrimp and seafood from the farm to retail shelves.
May 19, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 19, 2009—The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) and the Vietnamese State Agency for Technological Innovation (SATI) are planning an RFID pilot to track seafood exports. The pilot, which is expected to begin early in the third quarter of 2009, will use some combination of RFID and bar code technology to ensure the safety and freshness of seafood as it is shipped to global markets.

The two organizations have partnered with IBM and Bangkok-based software provider FXA Group on the project.

According to Paul Chang, worldwide lead of business strategy for emerging technologies at IBM, the specific technology details of the pilot have yet to be hammered out. "But I would say that mostly likely there will be a variety of auto ID technology utilized," he said. "There could be low frequency RFID for things like plastic totes, EPC Gen2 tags for outbound shipments going to the U.S. or European customers, and there may also be a place for bar codes based on the level of packaging and the cost of uniquely identifying individual packages."

The tracking solution will be tested at selected Vietnamese farms (as many as five, according to Chang) that export seafood to retailers in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. Using FXA's OpsSmart food traceability solution, the farms will collect critical data about each batch of shrimp and seafood, such as harvest date, location and temperature.

RFID and/or bar code labels will be used to uniquely identify individual batches of shrimp, and data about those batches will be associated with shipments so that retailers can access traceability information through an Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) query via IBM's InfoSphere Traceability Server software, which has been integrated with OpsSmart. InfoSphere is compliant with GS1's EPCIS standard.

In the event of a food contamination incident, for example, retailers and government agencies could then pinpoint the origin of the contamination and organize a targeted recall.

"What we've done is essentially lifted the technology used in the pharmaceutical market for track and trace, and we're applying it to the food industry," Chang said. "We want to deploy a technology that can quickly and easily capture information about the farm, the product and the location for processing or distribution. All of that information will be captured electronically using RFID, and stored in a GS1-standard repository. So whether we're tracking a bottle of drugs or a head of lettuce, we can track its movements up and down the supply chain."

Chang said that several large retailers have expressed interest in eventually participating in the pilot, but there were no formal agreements in place.

Using technology to improve food safety has gained traction in the wake of several high-profile product recalls in the U.S. ISO developed a food traceability standard (ISO 22005) in 2007, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has implemented more stringent tracking requirements from producers to aid in food recalls. Earlier this year, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a bill (Senate Bill 425) to establish a national food traceability system.

"Many countries have set strict regulations and industry requirements for monitoring of the food transportation process and traceability of the origin of the food," said Dr. Chu Ngoc Anh, Director of SATI, in a release announcing the pilot project. "The application of advanced technology such as RFID and traceability solutions can help Vietnamese seafood producers meet international industry standards and increasingly strict technical requirements. This will help increase the quality and productivity of the industry, and enhance the value of our exports."

"There's been a dialogue for some time among FXA, the government of Vietnam and the trade organizations about this," Chang said. "The idea is to demonstrate how the three key parties -- government agencies, industry and technology providers -- can work together to create an electronic tracking system that everyone can have access to, but that doesn't create too much of a burden on existing processes."

IBM and FXA partnered several years ago on a shrimp tracking solution in Thailand that was partially subsidized by the National Innovation Agency. In that instance, the two companies worked with integrator IE Technology on a system deployed by Chanthaburi Frozen Food Co. and Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Co. that utilizes 134.2 kHz low frequency passive RFID tags. IBM is also involved in a pilot project in Manitoba with TraceTracker Innovation ASA, and has deployed a similar system for Norwegian food supplier Nortura to track poultry and meat products.

Earlier this year, the state of Hawaii expanded its own food traceability pilot to include products shipped to Hawaii from other states (see Hawaii Expands Produce Supply Chain RFID Pilot).

Chang said that IBM is developing partnerships with smaller technology companies in other countries to deploy similar solutions for other sectors in the food industry. The company hopes to take a leadership position as governments around the world implement food safety standards and traceability systems. "We're in the best position to try to normalize the type of data that's being collected, and to help direct some of these smaller companies toward a global standard," Chang said. "We believe that adoption will accelerate once a standard has been established."
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