GeoTraceAgri will provide food processors with precise tracking information about food products, the project's researchers said yesterday in marking the completion of the prototype.
From 1 January 2006 new EU food laws introduced mandatory traceability requirements throughout the bloc.
Processors must track ingredients from their immediate suppliers and the products to their retail or distribution points. The requirements has pushed companies to search for technological solutions allowing them to track and record items.
Successive outbreaks of food-borne diseases, such as mad cow disease, over the past decade and current fears over the possible spread of avian flu, has also made consumers more concerned about the origin of their foods.
The system could also be useful for ensuring the credibility of the EU's geographical indications certification system, which protects producers of traditional foods.
GeoTraceAgri will provide information accessible in real-time. The system will cover all stages of production from "farm to fork", including storage, processing and distribution, according to IST Results, the reporting section of an EU-funded research network.
"The certification of the origin of food products is a vital issue for Europe in the ongoing discussions with the World Trade Organisation," stated Michel Debord, GeoTraceAgri's project coordinator. "Americans in particular prefer to certify the quality of a product according to its brand and attach no real importance to its origin. European consumers, by contrast, want to know where the food that they eat has come from."
Debord, has been delegated to co-ordinate the task of developing the prototype into a full-blown commercial product.
The European Commission has also approved a follow-up project, GTIS CAP (GeoTraceability Integrated System for the Common Agricultural Policy). The aim of the offshoot project will be to design and create an integrated information system serving both administrative bodies in charge of the CAP and the producers of vegetable food and feed products.
EU's CAP policy changed in January 2005 to require farmers and producers in EU member states to guarantee the quality of their produce, and to set up a means of traceability using a single system of declaration.
"The ultimate goal of GeoTraceAgri was to develop indicators of geotraceability that enable users to locate precisely the origin of agricultural products," Debord stated. "The advantage of this type of system is that the geographical certification is objective and verifiable, and can be viewed on the Internet using secure geoportals that have been specifically developed for this purpose."
GeoTraceAgri uses information and communication technology, satellite imaging and mapping to get the job done.
The first stage of the prototype project involved defining the indicators and determining the indicator classes relevant to geographical traceability in agriculture. The database includes information such as the plot, field, catchments and region for which the origin of the product is certified, such as a Region d'Appellation Contrôlée or AOC.
The next stages involved constructing a reference system for geographical traceability for selected agricultural sectors. Project members developed a computer infrastructure needed to ensure the geographical traceability.
A key component of the CAP declaration s the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS), which uses orthophotoplans - basically aerial photographs and high precision satellite images that are digitally rendered to extract as much meaningful spatial information as possible.
A unique number is given to each land parcel to provide a unique identification in space and time. This information is then updated regularly to monitor the evolution of the land cover and the management of the crops.
The final prototype was built using a variety of different platforms, languages, databases, mapping engines, and spatial processing libraries.
"The main benefit is that geotraceability is fully objective and certifies the declaration of origin made by the farmer or producer," Debord stated. "Today more than 80 per cent of existing data can be geolocalised and thus visualised on the Internet using geoportals such as Google Earth."