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Scandinavian Group Finds That Tracked Cod Sells Better

The Swedish eTrace project used EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and EPCIS software to document the fishes' provenance—which served to reassure consumers and thus boost sales.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 30, 2010Members of the Swedish seafood industry say that a five-day pilot project they recently completed proves the effectiveness of employing radio frequency identification to track fish from the fishing boat to the store, thereby ensuring a faster, more visible supply chain. The project is part of the eTrace portion of the European Union's SafeFoodEra food-safety research program. The eTrace initiative is the only part of the program that focuses on the use of RFID technology to gain visibility in a variety of food supply chains throughout Europe. The pilot, carried out last month, tracked cod from the fishing boat to the processing plant, wholesaler and store, using Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) software.

Although the project's primary goal was to determine whether EPC Gen 2 RFID hardware and EPCIS-compliant software could be utilized to track fish, the most dramatic result was seen in the public response. By placing a map and a schedule depicting each fish's journey from boat to store, including dates and times, above the store shelf where the fish was displayed, daily sales of cod at that store went up from a few kilos (2.3 to 6.6 pounds) to more than150 kilos (330 pounds).

Researchers attached Confidex’s Carrier Pro EPC Gen 2 RFID labels to plastic reusable fish containers, and used Nordic ID PL3000 handheld readers to interrogate those tags.

The system was designed to prove whether EPC Gen 2 RFID tags could be properly administered and read, and whether the EPCIS software could provide data regarding the fish's status or history for retailers, fishermen, processors and wholesalers. It not only succeeded in proving this to be the case, says Niklas Hild, the manager of the Swedish eTrace project, but also boosted consumers' confidence in the freshness of the fish they were buying.

The project was funded by SafeFoodEra and managed by SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture of Norway, a Scandinavian research organization, with consulting services from Lund University, in Sweden, as well as the sharing of data from the Swedish Board of Fisheries. Pilot participants included three fishing vessels, a fish-processing plant, a wholesaler and a retail store. Traceability-software firm TraceTracker provided the software to interpret data from the RFID reads and display that information using the EPCIS platform on TraceTracker's hosted server. Two additional eTrace pilots are currently underway as well, both launched this year, with one involving meat in Norway, and a second concerning fish in Iceland.

Swedish fishermen typically use a cell phone to call in a catch to the Swedish Board of Fisheries, including such details as their own name, the type of fish being caught, how they were caught—hook, net or trawl (a towed net)—where this took place (including longitude and latitude) and the amount caught. The Swedish Board of Fisheries stores this information on its own database, to control fishing and fulfill EU regulations. Those in the fish supply chain, meanwhile, utilize printed labels on the plastic fish containers, in conjunction with pencil and paper, in order to track where the fish came from, where they go and when, based on the ID number printed on the plastic container.

In May 2010, the group set out to test the EPCIS software's ability to allow supply chain participants to share data with each other. TraceTracker developed and supplied the EPCIS software, known as GTNet. During the pilot, which began on May 17, three fishing boats participated from the village of Simrishamn, in southern Sweden, on the Baltic Sea. Researchers attached Carrier Pro EPC Gen 2 RFID labels, provided by Confidex, to the plastic reusable containers in which the fish were stored. The pilot researchers then read the RFID tags with Nordic ID PL3000 handheld readers, which could use a Wi-Fi or GPRS connection to transmit data to EPCIS software running on a server hosted by TraceTracker. The software linked the tags' unique ID number with the data about the fish, and where and when it was caught, which was provided specifically for the pilot by the Swedish Board of Fisheries.

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