Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for animals represent one of the oldest uses of the technology. But much of the earlier use, through implanted microchips, was geared toward animal identification (such as dogs, cats, and horses) rather than lifecycle tracking of animals raised for human consumption.
Originally thought of as just a herd management technique, RFID tags soon gained additional applications. After problems with disease transmission in slaughterhouses, many countries around the world began considering these tags for use in tracing individual animals through the food chain.
The need for accurate and efficient tracking from the packing house back to the farm of origin, drives the continued development of RFID tags and associated readers.
Meatpacking companies are under increased pressure to provide flawless inventory control and a clear record of the movement of an animal carcass through the plant. Routinely providing data to the consumer or exporter, such as the animal producer, the produced location, and the quality of products coming from packing houses will provide high levels of confidence.
Most major meatpackers have two primary goals.
(1) Provide their buyers with a quality product that's currently in demand by consumers. They want to be sure that a certain type of animal, in a given environment, will yield the desired product.
(2) Offer complete and accurate livestock traceability back to the originating farm or ranch. The ability to identify animals and their origins during a food safety or animal health emergency is key in protecting public health and critical to the success of a response operation.
RFID tracking systems, both inside the packing plant and within the cattle industry as a whole, ensure that useful information can be shared up and down the supply chain.
For example, the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) manages the Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS) which was designed to contain and eradicate animal disease. To date, Canada maintains the only mandatory, national identification program for the cattle industry. The CCIA also works with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure the food safety of the Canadian cattle industry.
Before cattle leave their herd of origin in Canada, each animal must be tagged with a CCIA RFID tag, purchased from an authorized tag dealer. Tags are then connected to a user account in the CLTS database. And information about the individual cow (such as birth date - for cattle born on premises, move in/out information - for cattle purchased or sold, or retirement date - for animals that have died or been slaughtered) can be updated as the tag is read.
When the animal reaches the slaughterhouse, there's a complete record of the animal's lifecycle to that point.
RFID equipment inside the harsh environment of the packing plant has also advanced, ensuring accurate and timely tracking of work in progress and product flow. Manufacturers have developed rugged tags designed to withstand caustic environments within the plant, such as the acid washes used to control bacteria. The latest passive readers maintain a high degree of accuracy, as some areas in the plant require a read rate of 100%.
And processing into the plant means the animal simply needs to walk past a scanner. There's no time-consuming paperwork and the database is updated immediately.
These advances in RFID offer the meatpacking industry a reliable and effective automatic identification technology, and ensure that once the meat is graded and priced, that information can move back down the chain to the meat producer. That's a win-win situation for everyone involved.
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