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Brandt Tracks Its Beef

The California beef producer is using an RFID and bar-code system to track cattle from birth all the way to the retail market.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 31, 2006Beef producer Brandt Beef, of Brawley, Calif., is using an RFID and bar-code tracking system to keep track of its cattle, from birth to beef.

By using the GlobalTrack system from GTR-Datastar, Brandt can automatically trace beef directly back from a retail site, such as supermarket or restaurant, to the specific animal and its origins. It can also track the beef forward to a retail site from a feed lot when necessary—such as during a meat recall. With better inventory visibility, the company can be prepared to act within minutes in the event that a meat product should turn out to have contaminants such as E. coli, or come from an animal afflicted by a disease, such as a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease."

Eric Brandt
The application of the software combining RFID and bar-coding technology is a first, according to Paul Cheek, a partner at GTR-Datastar. Brandt, a family-run company, says it strives to offer higher-quality meat than that sold by large beef companies. Brandt guarantees its beef to be free of antibiotics and added hormones, and is now spearheading the use of technology to provide better information about the beef's journey from calf to harvesting and into the store.

Within the first day of birth, Brandt calves are first tagged with AllFlex ISO-compliant 134.2 kHz passive RFID tags on their ears. Handlers at the two California calf ranches that provide Brandt with their cattle use AllFlex handheld interrogators to read the tag ID number, which is entered into the GlobalTrack system, the Internet-based interface for tracking the origins of the product. Authorized users of the system can query about the origins of a beef product through all stages of production—birth, feed lot, slaughter, distribution and customer. GlobalTrack integrates with Brandt's in-house, unbranded proprietary accounting software package, and data related to the calf, such as its date of birth, health and birthplace, is added to the GlobalTrack system

At four months, the calf is shipped to Brandt Beef's feeding lot, where the tag is again scanned with handheld readers, updating the animal's information. The calf stays on the feeding lot for approximately one year, then is shipped to Brandt's meat-processing facility. There the tag is scanned again before the calf is slaughtered. At that time, the system switches to bar codes, says Eric W. Brandt, vice president and managing partner of Brandt Beef, because many distributors and retailers are still using that technology.

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