In a country rocked by a string of food safety scandals, it’s no surprise that the issue has become prominent. In Sichuan Province’s Chengdu, a sophisticated food traceablity system has been developed to help combat the problem.
In 2008 the death of six infants caused the melamine milk scandal. In 2011 steroids in pork led to mass poisoning the guests at a Wufeng wedding will never forget. Use of potentially toxic “gutter oil”, recycled from drains and even produced from decomposing animal parts is widespread in many eateries. Increasingly bizarre are cases of water-injected meat, glow in the dark pork, soy sauce made from human hair, and duck meat marinated in goat urine and sold as lamb. When watermelons started exploding “like landmines” in Jiangsu after farmers got heavy handed with growth hormone, it was certainly cause for concern.
Monitoring millions of meat and other products is a difficult and expensive task in a country the size of China where the issue is complicated by a complex regulatory system.
The 1995 Mad Cow disease (BSE) epidemic in the UK resulted in the introduction of new but costly technical standards for tracing beef products. In China food traceability systems in Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen and Shandong Province have been initiated in recent years.
The development of the Chengdu System at Boyun Chengdu Hi-Tech zone was prompted by 2008 reports of contaminated water-injected pork. This efficient system for tracing pork and vegetables involves a combination of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology which can identify a product, and Cloud computing which collects and analyses data. Wifi enabled scales at wholesale, retail and food service establishments measure, monitor and tag products, allowing them to be traced back through the supply chain.
Customers can even use iPhones with RFID equipment to go online and trace the porker back to its farm, using the attached label with weight, price and RFID derived information to locate the source, slaughter date and other information about flow through channels and inspections.
Dr John Strak, Honorary Professor in Food Economics at the University of Nottingham, described the system as “the ultimate in traceability”. Such effective systems could lead to benefits and improved efficiency throughout the food chain. “It’s not just about one city in China or one supply chain for pork, traceability systems that truly work will be able to deliver sustainable vegetables, meat, fish and food products across global supply chains.”