Farm to fork traceability is no longer a nice to have for securing worldwide food supply chains. Since 2000, there have been multiple outbreaks of Foot & Mouth disease and Avian Flu – with the latest one hitting Israel just this year. With food supply chains increasingly globalised, an outbreak in one location leads very quickly to an outbreak everywhere.
Thankfully, governments across the world, including India, have begun to pass and enact regulations that mandate traceability of livestock animals as they move through different farms, markets and abattoirs. Furthermore, such traceability is required to be at the individual level since batch traceability is not sufficient for complete and rapid traceability. In case of an outbreak, it is critical that affected livestock and farms are isolated to contain the risk to consumers.
Livestock are typically tagged a few days after birth and each sale/transfer event is also captured in a central database. Additionally, all significant medical history of the animal including lineage and vaccinations is required to be captured and is traceable by the unique ID assigned to the animal. This has additional benefits of allowing farmers to optimise breeding for healthy livestock.
Regulators are faced with two critical questions when enacting these regulations:
- Which animals to target?
- What technology to adopt for traceability?
The answers to these questions are interlinked due to cost and complexity implications. Generally speaking, lower the cost and more universal the solution, the more likely that a regulator will mandate all animals to be tracked.
Low Frequency RFID
Globally, Low Frequency RFID (LF RFID, 125kHz), has commonly been adopted over the years with mixed results. A major drawback of LF RFID is the really short range (10-15 cm at best) slowing down read operations and leading to frequent failures as animals huddle together, blocking radiation from the tags. Studies have shown that LF RFID yields only about 90% recall of tagged sheep in group movement situations.
Another challenge, witnessed by this author on multiple farms, is that overhanging tags get caught on fences leading to damage to the animal’s ears. A solution is to design tags with minimal to no overhang – easier said than done for larger animals such as cows that need larger tags for visibility.
Barcodes & QR Codes
Some countries have experimented with Barcode and QR codes for individual identification. While these do yield the lowest cost of rollout, they require significant manual intervention for scanning. This is highly error prone when dealing with groups of livestock that like to huddle together. All operations are now, by implication, serial operations where each animal is read one-by-one.
Finally, a novel method being trialled is the use of face recognition to generate individual biomarkers. This technology is very early and no significant data is available on its efficacy and accuracy. If successful, it does suggest an extremely low-cost method – albeit one that needs to be robust against aging and potential injury to the animal. Moreover, this technique needs to be usable for different kinds of animals leading, otherwise, to a challenging mix-and-match of technologies.
Optimal Solution – Ultra High Frequency RFID
UHF RFID works at 868MHz and provides the backbone for logistics automation at companies like Amazon and powers FASTag for automobiles. Due to its higher frequency and higher regulatory power allowance, UHF allows the design of smaller tags while achieving significantly longer range.
As a practical example, consider the use of UHF RFID technology for livestock traceability.
Our founder and CEO, Dr. Tej Pochiraju, has been involved in pioneering and successfully validating the use of UHF RFID technology for livestock traceability in the EU and Australia. Tej led the EU-funded ROSEI project that successfully demonstrated the use of UHF RFID for consistent 100% identification of animals even in challenging environments such as groups of sheep on farms. The video below shows a demonstration on an Australian sheep farm. The same tags have also been used reliably with pigs and cattle.
Back in 2014, we designed the world’s smallest ear tag to avoid overhang and prevent ear injuries. The patented design uses standard PCB materials and now forms the basis for all of Datamars’ UHF RFID tags for livestock.
At volumes of 1M+ tags, our designs can achieve costs of approximately INR 20-25/tag. Coupled with our robust, WiFi/BLE enabled readers, we can achieve ranges of up to 3m from handheld readers and up to 10m from fixed readers. The flexibility of our solution allows use in all environments from farms to markets to abattoirs.
Our readers come with an optional integration for weighing scales so farmers can combine weighing and scanning operations with ease. We support weighing scales with RS232, RS485 and Bluetooth interfaces. With built-in battery powered operation, farmers can even monitor feeding habits of their livestock to ensure healthy growth.
Our API-ready approach to product development ensures ease of integration into custom software applications. All our products also come with out-of-the-box integration with SAP, AWS and Azure making secure, infrastructure-less deployments a reality.