As our global food systems grow and span the continents, they have become much more complex. Though supply chains in Asia are small and therefore manageable, countries such as the US and Canada present big challenges due to the sheer size and scope of their markets.
Beef raised on a farm in the US ends up at high-end restaurants in China, South Korea and Japan. Pork raised in Canada finds its way to supermarkets in Russia.
At the same time, consumers are becoming more sophisticated. Today’s shopper has access to more diverse protein offerings than ever before. Modern consumers increasingly want to know more about the origins of their food they buy—namely where it comes from and how it is produced—especially when the product’s is being marketed as a premium item.
DNA Based Traceability
Traceability systems, such as DNA based traceability system, allow protein producers to confidently answer these customer demands and help tell the story behind the product. Any protein producer that is not implementing, or at least researching, a reliable supply chain traceability system had better get on board.
The use of some form of meat traceability system is already a legal requirement in Canada, Latin America and Asia. Even when use of such systems is not mandatory, meat producers and grocery retailers find that their implementation improves efficiency, builds brand loyalty with their customer and improves product quality throughout the supply chain.
For the US meat producer trying to break into the Asian market, providing answers to these questions by means of proven traceability systems will continue to be a key requirement.
DNA-based traceability technology for fresh meat is widely used in the UK and is beginning to gain acceptance in North America. The story behind the evolution of the traceability system is interesting.
DNA identification technology was employed during the years spent researching the genetic characterisation of cattle in India and Africa. The process was first used commercially when the mad cow crisis erupted in Europe in 1996. In a matter of weeks, the European beef industry collapsed as consumers completely lost trust in beef products.
Watching these events unfold, researchers at Trinity College Dublin realised that aspects of DNA identification technology could be used to address this crisis. Ireland’s premier grocery retailers adopted the DNA traceability system, first as a security measure, then as a marketing tool to restore consumer confidence in the meat supply.
Using DNA to trace a grocer’s meat offerings back to the farm or processing batch of origin is straightforward and simple. With a large database of animal DNA, it is an easy task to determine whether labelled beef is what it purports to be.
The process starts with a DNA sample taken from each animal carcass at the farm or packing plant. The sample is profiled with a panel of DNA markers. These profiles are then stored in a computer database. The carcasses are then broken up and distributed to various retailers and food service outlets.
At any step in the distribution process, a new sample can be taken from any product to confirm its origins or attributes. The system tracks actual products rather than product labels. The DNA records themselves are tamper-proof, and the tracing process reduces the need for costly documents and barcodes.
This technology has since been adopted by one of the largest food distributors in the US for its branded Angus beef sold to 11,000 restaurants. DNA traceability also will soon become a major selling point and proof of superior eating quality for a locally produced beef sold by one of Canada’s largest retail groups.
By making the critical link between meat and its production history, it is possible to monitor a number of different production characteristics that drive quality improvements which in turn leads to a more consistent, better eating experience for consumers.
The beauty of DNA as a traceability tool lies in its inherent credibility. Restaurant patrons and shoppers are familiar with DNA from seeing it in use in crime dramas on television and in everyday life. Consumers understand it and trust it, and this trust gives them confidence that meat products are what they purport to be.
In the world’s increasingly complex supply chain, meat producers worldwide are realising the role that DNA traceability can play in providing the level of transparency that markets and consumers are coming to demand.