Sunday, January 21, 2007

Using Cell Phones for Food Traceability

But in Japan, it's becoming more and more common to be able to trace the history of your food using your cell phone. The Japanese Food Safety Commission, which was established in 2001 after a Mad Cow Disease (BSE) outbreak, has been working to put food safety in the hands of the consumer by tagging products (even fresh farm produce) with RFID or QR codes that can be read with a cell phone. It's something we talked about a bit last year, but the idea seems to be gaining wider favor, as most Japanese phones produced today come equipped with a QR code reader. According to FOODEX JAPAN's Trend & Info page:
Consumers can trace back the vegetables until the day of harvest, when and where they were packed, how they were shipped, etc. Many of the local producers have followed this example and some even go as far as displaying a picture of the farmer to bring a sense of proximity as additional reassurance to the consumer.
One frequently-cited case study into the use of QR codes on food is Ishii Foods Corporation, which has been posting information about their products online since 2002, "including the retraceable history of the raw materials, the ingredients, production, etc." Digital graphs like those that Ishii puts out are even available on display screens in some supermarket aisles.
I really like this idea of a "backstory" for food and other products. Have the producers become completely transparent about how the product was made. Allow customers the ability to determine the social and environmental impact of the purchase.

I think what the Japanese are doing is a great concrete example of what is possible. I think we should push for similar traceability of food in the US.

The ability to do this with a cellphone is great, and something I hope comes to the US soon (just one of the reasons for my envy of Japanese cellphones). I was looking into using cellphone cameras to be able to scan UPC barcodes, and it looks like it is technically difficult due to the inability of cameraphones to take good close up pictures. But, there is this open-source project so I am hopeful. Otherwise we will have to wait for producers to add 2D barcodes (like the picture shown) that can easily be recognized via a cellphone picture.

via WorldChanging

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog recently as I was doing some research on food traceability. I had a few questions and was wondering what would be the best way to get in contact with you to discuss a few of them?


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