Back to Research & Development

Subscribe to R&D Round-Up newsletter

Stay informed with a short, sharp monthly summary of MLA’s latest research reports.

Sign up

Red meat traceability information hub

Food and product traceability

Product tractability is integral to food safety and quality assurance. Traceability, from on-farm through the supply chain, enables the Australian red meat industry to protect our reputation of clean, safe and natural and underpins product quality.

What is MLA doing in this space?

MLA invests in food and product traceability activities include benchmarking, standards and building the capacity of the industry.

Benchmarking and standards

MLA collaborates with Codex Alimentarius activities, food safety systems and GS1 product identification systems to ensure that the work we do aligns with global directions.

Capacity building

Possible technology solutions

MLA has developed a service provider catalogue for use by industry (see below for access details).

Marker technology

A project has been initiated to pilot country of origin ’marker’ technology. This will scientifically distinguish beef and lamb produced in Australia from meat produced in other countries.

Focusing on trace elements and isotopes, the technology aims to deliver an innate chemical fingerprint. This fingerprint will tie products to their production or manufacturer origin. Not only will this support provenance claims, but it will identify substitution and counterfeit goods.

If the technology is successful the industry will be in a position to audit (test) any products labelled as Australian beef and lamb are true to their claimed country of origin.

Commercial case studies

Three commercially based case study trials are currently running to determine the best way/s to provide customers and consumers with confirmation of the authenticity of product. These trials are up and running with different supply chains into Singapore, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, China and the United States.

The trials will not only test the technology offerings but communicate the key learnings via case studies to help build capability in other supply chains.

Market research

MLA has funded a project to undertake market research to better understand:

  • Who generates value from implementing a traceability system and therefore if implementation is ‘worthwhile’
  • How supply chain participants can be incentivised to participate.
  • Identify which products and markets (or market segments) are most likely to derive value from implementing an integrity system for various attributes.

Findings from this work will be shared across the industry and with potential service providers.

Education and awareness-raising

MLA is working with commercial partners to promote Australia’s red meat integrity systems and programs right through to end-consumers.

Technology provider FAQs

Are you in the business of developing food and product traceability and integrity systems which could be applied to the red meat industry? Below is some helpful background information about the industry.

What do we mean by traceability?

Traceability, in this context, focuses on the maintenance of product integrity through transparent systems that:

  1. track the chain of custody
  2. verify the authenticity of the product
  3. track and trace product flow.

These are all forms of risk mitigation which are used in food supply chains. Achieving traceability requires cooperation throughout the whole supply chain and effective data/information sharing.

Why is traceability important for the Australian red meat industry?

Quite simply, the red meat industry is too valuable to jeopardise its integrity through lack of traceability.

Find out more about the value of the red meat industry.  

Why is traceability in red meat supply chains so complex?

Traceability within the Australian red meat industry is complex as the supply chains themselves are multifaceted. Given the number of entities interacting with the product across the supply chain, a high degree of cooperation and accurate data transmission from one entity to the next is required for end-to-end traceability. This can be challenging due to varying levels of trust, visibility and transparency within these supply chains.   

What are red meat brand owners looking for?

The drivers for implementation of traceability processes and technologies vary between supply chains and markets.

It may be a need to communicate more with the end consumer, a need to mitigate food fraud, a need to improve cold chain management or a multitude of other needs. Consequently, it’s important to present a multi-pronged value proposition to the brand owner.   

Brand owner and exporter FAQ

Are you a red meat brand owner or exporter? Not sure where to start when implementing a traceability system? 

What is traceability?

Traceability, in this context, focuses on the maintenance of product integrity by tracking chain of custody to help verify authenticity.

What is driving demand for traceability?

Full supply chain traceability is a key priority for the red meat industry. There are several drivers for this:  

  1. Retailers and consumers wanting transparency around product origins, treatments and history.
  2. Brand owners wanting to reduce the risk of food fraud. 
  3. Supply chains wanting improved transparency regarding cold chain management to mitigate losses.
  4. All key players wanting to realise cost-saving opportunities through supply chain efficiencies. 

As a brand owner/exporter, no matter whether your goal is to have direct communication with an end consumer about your product story via a QR code or you’re combatting a food fraud issue, technology-enabled tractability can have many purposes.  

Where do I start if I need to implement a traceability system?

With market needs and technology developments changing the status quo constantly, this is a fast-evolving space. These are some key questions to consider before implementing a traceability system in your supply chain:  

Why am I doing this?
Are my retail customers demanding more transparency? Can I set my product apart in market via better communication with the end consumer (i.e. recipes, origin story)? 

What problem am I trying to solve?
Do I have a food fraud issue? Do I have traceability gaps in my cold chain management that need to be identified and investigated? 

Who wants this additional service and are they willing to pay for it? 
Some markets/market segments will desire this more than others.

Do I need to apply this technology to all my products and markets?
Think about what your customers and consumers want – is this something they would value?

If you have any questions about this space, please get in touch with the MLA team redmeattraceability@mla.com.au.  

What is blockchain and how does it fit in?

In simple terms, blockchain is a shared data transfer platform that holds records of transactions of an item or product from start to finish. These records are secure, transparent and are not controlled by any single entity. It is a way to verify and check your paper trail.   

What blockchain technology is already out there?

A range of technologies and tools are already in the market. These include biological identification such as DNA, track and trace such as anti-counterfeiting packaging and labelling. 

Depending on your goals and needs, there are numerous tools which could be used in retail:   

 - Secure packaging technologies (tamper-proof) to reduce the risk of package reuse or altering

- Security features allow you to more quickly identify attempts at brand and packaging duplication

- Provenance guarantees supported by for example DNA or isotope random testing systems along the supply chain

- Cold chain monitoring using data loggers to verify and track location, forecasted shelf life remaining and temperature variations

- Paper trial auditing using a blockchain system to track product movements throughout the supply chain

- Branding and logos to support your brand promise and product claims

- A public-facing communication platform and plan supported by for example QR codes on the product.

What is food fraud?

Food fraud is when a food product has been deliberately adulterated, substituted, redirected, misrepresented or mislabelled at any point in the supply chain.

The Counting the cost: Lost Australian food and wine export sales due to fraud report from Food Innovation Australia Ltd estimates fraud perpetrated on the industry in export markets is estimated to cost $272m/year.  

Types of food fraud are listed below:

Threat Example
Adulteration – Lowering the quality of agri-food products by adding an inferior substance.

Melamine included in infant dairy formula.

Substitution – Replacing foods with other similar products without altering their overall characteristics.

Wagyu beef is substituted with another, less expensive type of beef.

Diversion – Redirecting foods and other agricultural products from their intended usage. Spoiled food or animal wastes used for human consumption.
Misrepresentation – Marketing an agri-product as something which is not. False declaration about fish and seafood species geographic origin. 
Identity theft – The identity of a business or brand is used fraudulently for economic gain. Food sold using false company identification. 

 

Preliminary findings from red meat industry consultation and market research indicate there is a wide gap between messaging from literature on this subject, vs lived experiences of supply chain business's regarding the nature and extent product fraud.

Food fraud is certainly an area to watch as technology solutions are rapidly developing, and market needs evolve. It would appear that many industry players investing in this space are predominately doing so driven by risk mitigation rather than as a customer value-add. Food fraud isn't new and over time scandals have emerged within the global food industry causing real and perceived public health hazards and economic losses.  

MLA activities aim to debunk myths and assist brand owners and technology providers to work together in the development of robust, fit for purpose systems.

What does the perfect system look like?

A fully comprehensive end to end traceability system will most likely need to include a combination of technologies and communication tools. This is particularly so if protection against fraud is desired in addition to traceability. 

To provide the maximum assurance attention to both packaging (and its associated information) and product (and its associated qualities) is required.  

The triggers for supply chains vary. The brand owner may have a multitude of needs which can vary between markets including:

  1. Wanting to communicate more with the end consumer about their brand promise
  2. Mitigate the risk of food fraud
  3. Improve cold chain management  

A technology solution versatile enough to meet multiple needs is a more attractive option for a brand owner.