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Ambitious European Project Traces Food from Farm to Fork

More than a dozen colleges and companies have joined a consortium under the guidance of the University of Wolverhampton, to pilot RFID technology as it tracks the movements of fish, wine, pork and cheese through production and on to retailers.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 28, 2011A European project overseen by the University of Wolverhampton and a consortium of universities, technical institutes and commercial entities is determining how radio frequency identification technology can benefit the perishable-goods supply chain. The project, known as Farm to Fork (F2F), was launched last year, with half of its funding provided by the European Commission's ICT Policy Support Program—aimed at stimulating innovation and competitiveness—which includes a half-dozen pilots throughout Europe to track pork, fish, wine and cheese through the production process and on to stores.

The project's objective is to determine how well RFID can be used to improve supply chain visibility, provide authentication of food's origin, reduce the amount of waste due to spoilage or other supply chain problems (by tracking environmental conditions), and increase the efficiency of the supply chain itself. The pilots, which all employ EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags (including Confidex's Halo tag; UPM RFID's ShortDipole, DogBone, Web and Hammer models; and Alien Technology's Squiggle tag) and readers, are designed to determine whether the benefits gained from the RFID data will provide a return on investment for users. In August of this year, the project's participants began deploying the RFID technology, which will remain operational until August 2012. At that time, the participants and the university will review the results, calculate the ways in which RFID technology may have improved the supply chain, and publish their findings on the Farm to Fork Web site.

The University of Wolverhampton and eight other colleges launched the project in Brussels in May 2010, under the leadership of Robert Newman, a professor of computer science at the university, according to the school project monitoring officer, Marek Hornak. The companies participating in the pilots include two retailers in the United Kingdom: Green Fields Farm Shop and The Deli@Bewdley, as well as food and wine producers located in the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Italy and Spain. The university's technology lab developed software that each participant is presently using to interpret and manage data from RFID read events, as well as Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) software to enable the sharing of data with other supply chain members, if the companies so choose. All information remains under the control of its respective owners—the pilots' participants—according to Hornak.

The first year of the project involved conducting research into the existing supply chain management systems, including pork processed in the United Kingdom and then sold to British stores, fish farmed and processed in Spain and Slovenia for a Europe-wide market, wine tracked from vineyards in Spain and Italy to stores, and cheese processed in England and sold domestically at grocery stores. Three of the pilots—involving fish, wine or pork— already have at least some of the RFID infrastructure installed, and the participating companies have begun reading tags as the products are processed, while the U.K. cheese provider plans to begin utilizing the RFID technology by January 2012.

Buttercross Farm Foods a pork producer and retailer located in Market Drayton, a town in North Shropshire, England, is employing RFID to track meat from the point at which the carcasses are delivered to Buttercross, through processing and, eventually, to its stores. The company raises free-range pork, and sells bacon, sausages, shoulders and pork loin to the British market. Initially, the company is only tracking the meat through the cold storage and production process at its own facility. The solution was installed by IT Futures, which serves as the university's technology service provider.

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