Tracking food from farm to fork

Tuesday, 14 February, 2006

A prototype system designed to help consumers, farmers and other interested parties trace the geographic origin of food at all stages of production from "farm to fork' - storage, processing and distribution - has been developed by researchers.

In the wake of outbreaks of food-borne disease in the past decade (think mad cow disease, E.coli, salmonella, etc) and the current fear over the possible spread of avian flu, public demand for tighter safeguards on the entire food production chain has never been greater.

For the team behind the Information Society Technologies (IST) funded GeoTraceAgri project there is a keen awareness of the high stakes involved for all the various players.

The concept behind GeoTraceAgri is to take advantage of advances in information and communication technology, satellite imaging and mapping to enable clear and precise tracking of food products that are accessible in real-time to relevant parties.

"The ultimate goal of GeoTraceAgri was to develop indicators of geotraceability that enable users to locate precisely the origin of agricultural products," Michel Debord, project coordinator says. "The advantage of this type of system is that the geographical certification is objective and verifiable, and can be viewed on the internet using secure geoportals that have been specifically developed for this purpose."

The first stage of the project involved defining the indicators and determining the indicator classes relevant to geographical traceability in agriculture. The various geographical scales taken into consideration included information such as the plot, field, catchments and region for which the origin of the product is certified (Region d'Appellation Contrôlée or AOC).

The next stages involved constructing a reference system for geographical traceability for selected agricultural sectors and developing the computer infrastructure needed to ensure the geographical traceability of the agricultural products.

Development of the prototype involved testing by over 25 parties such as cooperatives, administrations, farmers, and various specialists in a number of European regions.

The final prototype " built using a variety of different platforms, languages, databases, mapping engines, and spatial processing libraries " reflects both the diverse nature of the project and the wide range of expertise that the consortium partners brought to the table.

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