The use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in the cattle industry is far from a new idea; in fact it was introduced in Europe in the late 1980s. Many countries and several states have implemented programs using RFID tags and bar codes to track beef cattle during their journey from field to fork. The result is an accurate accounting of the origination and identification of the animals, including health records and life history, where it has traveled, and when.
Pennsylvania is one such state. In partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the RFID program there offers free RFID tags to beef producers. Michigan runs a similar program to aid efforts in eradication of bovine tuberculosis and is mandatory for beef producers in that state. Other states using similar systems include Nebraska (which, according to the Nebraska Beef Council, is first in the nation in commercial red meat production, producing 7,163,800,000 pounds in 2011), Texas and Florida.
Brandt Beef in California offers a good example of the efficacy of RFID tags. Besides tracking cattle from birth to the retail market, the RFID tags enable Brandt to automatically trace beef back from grocery stores and restaurants to the specific animal and its origins. Should meat be determined to have a contaminant such as E. coli, mad cow or other diseases, the feed lot can be readily identified for recall purposes. Brandt guarantees its beef to be free of antibiotics and added hormones, and RFID tags can provide better information about the beef's journey to the wholesale or retail store and ultimately to the consumer.
Shortly after birth, Brandt calves receive RFID tags on their ears. Handheld scanners read the tag ID, which is entered into a GlobalTrack system database. The tag is scanned again at four months when the calf is shipped to Brandt Beef's feeding lot, and then at one year when it’s shipped to the processing house. Authorized users can query the origins of a beef product through all stages of production—birth, feed lot, slaughter, distribution and customer. The system integrates with Brandt's in-house proprietary accounting software package.
Many countries have already incorporated RFID to secure their beef supply, particularly Europe, Australia and Canada. Canadian beef producer Atlantic Beef Products (ABP) has for several years used an RFID-based system to maintain an electronic record of what animals are in any package that leaves the plant. This enables ABP to swiftly identify and conduct recalls of packaged meat specific to a contaminated animal or animals. Similarly, Firstlight Foods in New Zealand has selected Trident RFID and Omnitrol Networks to provide their venison and beef tracking operations.
There are about 1 billion head of cattle worldwide; the United States alone has a population of 98 million head. Using RFID technology to track and monitor this integral component of the world’s nutritional needs assures government compliance and consumer confidence and safety.
Written by Suzi Harkola
GlobalTrak is an information services company that utilizes mobility technologies and advanced cargo sensors to deliver real-time situational awareness and intelligence to help companies perform better and improve business processes and operations.
About Omnitrol Networks
Omnitrol Networks is a leading provider of distributed software solutions including manufacturing visibility, supplier production collaboration, and global asset tracking and product traceability. OMNITROL-based solutions automate real-time visibility in operations by capturing and analyzing events from digital and analog sensors, RFID and wireless location-based sensors, and existing production control systems.