Australia’s export beef brands have collaborated with business service firm PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) to develop a food trust product traceability scheme allowing customers to scan meat to confirm its authenticity.
The process sprays the meat with a nano-scale silicon dioxide particle, effectively a natural, edible fingerprint, as it is packed in Australia. This allows it to be scanned at the point of sale overseas to confirm its authenticity and supply chain history, right back to the tag number on the animal. The fingerprint can sustain temperatures from - 20°C to 400°C allowing the meat’s authenticity to be verified even after it has been cooked. The scheme is set to be rolled out in the next twelve months.
Australian branded agricultural goods are widely respected in China for their clean and safe reputations. Australian export beef can command price tags of up to $120 a kilogram, which has spawned a lucrative Chinese counterfeit meat business; PwC estimates fraudulent Australian branded beef alone is worth approximately $2 billion a year. Rat, dog, horse and camel meat are some of the substitutes that reportedly sell as beef, prompting serious concern among brands who fear reputations they have spent decades building could be wiped out by public health outbreaks. Indeed, counterfeit meat is a problem not only constrained to China, as the 2011 horsemeat scandal in Europe demonstrated.
Could this be a solution to the counterfeit meat problem? If it proves successful, will such edible tracing schemes become commonplace in markets throughout the world? Could it compliment other schemes, such as Provenance who are harnessing the power of blockchain to improve supply chain transparency? Finally, what impact might this greater transparency have on consumer choices?