Food fraud is a global problem. Pricewaterhouse Coopers estimates it costs the food industry some USD$50 billion annually and affects 10–20 per cent of all food and wine. Locally, according to Food Innovation Australia Ltd, the potential cost is close to $2 billion annually; dairy, wine and red meat are the worst-affected sectors, followed by horticulture and seafood.
It’s not just a matter of being ripped off, for example buying Manuka honey that’s just regular honey, or dried oregano that’s been cut with olive and sumac leaves. In 2008 six babies died (and another 300,000 were harmed) in China from consuming infant formula that had been adulterated with melamine, whose high nitrogen content makes the powder look like it’s protein-rich.
There’s a commercial advantage too, for businesses that can guarantee the provenance of the food they’re selling, as Adam Gibson, Transport and Logistics Risk Engineer at NTI, notes.
“Customers want to have confidence in the safety and quality of their food. Being able to communicate to customers that they can trust in what they’re buying opens up a lot of opportunities for smart businesses.”
Where’s the beef?
Australian agricultural products have a global reputation for high quality, thanks to our strict regulatory regimes. This means they are highly desirable and command premium prices. But savvy buyers, including importers and restaurateurs, are demanding proof that they’re getting the genuine article.
Focusing on the Chinese market, BeefLedger Limited is a company as well as a solution. It tracks beef products and, through its mobile app, gives buyers instant access to a product’s production and logistics history.
“Substitution is a big issue in China,” says Adam. “Ox and buffalo are sometimes sold as beef, so being able to use an app on your phone to validate a shipment is a big advantage.”
BeefLedger uses mobile tags, blockchain and other technologies to document a product’s entire supply chain history, from individually tagged cattle to packaged frozen steaks.
In 2018, NTI sponsored a BeefLedger trial. This involved shipping cattle from a station in Mt Gambier VIC to an abattoir in Casino NSW, where they were processed, packaged and shipped to Shanghai.
The longer than usual truck journey was an opportunity to test and gather logistics information. It showed no bruising – important for animal welfare and meat quality – as well as a few minor speeding incidents and other data points.
Once processed, the steaks were packed into boxes with near-field communication (NFC) chips, QR codes (essential in China) and a rare earth sticker (to prevent substitution).
From paddock to plate
The trial was a success, with the packages delivered to China fuss-free and in good condition. BeefLedger provided a full history of each box, validating every stage of the journey.
The implications for food producers, shippers, buyers, insurers and – most important of all – consumers are enormous. Insurance claims could be streamlined, or policies tailored for specific producers and carriers. As Andrew Kidd, NTI’s Head of Marine, notes, “We’re still learning. Understanding the technology is critical. Our data scientists are still studying the results and making sense of the data.”
One thing is certain, though: hungry patrons in Shanghai were able to enjoy genuine-article Australian beef, and they were happy to pay for the privilege. Sharing our best produce with an appreciative market is good for Australian farmers, good for the Australian food industry and ultimately, good for Australia.
We think BeefLedger is here to stay – and stay tuned because we’ll keep you up to date with all the latest information.
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