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Study examines options for validating Australia’s agricultural products

Smartphone apps, trace mineral markers and micro tags are just some of the emerging technologies which can help consumers and exporters validate the authenticity of agricultural products.

These and other technologies have been evaluated as part of a new study, which investigates ways for Australia’s rural industries to verify to consumers that they are getting the same high quality product that they paid for.

The study, funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and conducted by GHD, examines the merits of emerging technologies across Australia’s seven largest agricultural export sectors – grains, red meat, cotton, wool, wine, sugar and dairy.

“As demand for higher value, better quality and differentiated products has grown, so too has competition from product which is counterfeited, substituted or otherwise making false claims about factors such as provenance, ingredients and supply chain practices,”  said GHD researcher Seamus Hoban.

These technologies can help reduce fraudulent practices such as counterfeiting, product substitution and the re-use of packaging. They simultaneously add value to products by ensuring food safety, ingredients, origin, production and supply chain practices.

Mr Hoban said that the nature of product validation requirements varied significantly across industries, with no one-size-fits all solution.

“Ensuring authenticity of origin is important to the wine and red meat industries. While preventing contamination and ensuring production and supply chain practices are of high concern to the cotton and grains industry. The red meat, dairy and wine industries have a shared interest in technologies aimed at preventing spoilage and counterfeiting of labels and packaging. While the wool industry is concentrating its efforts on enabling consumer and supply chain marketing and feedback around product origin, performance and integrity.”

The study identified three broad categories of technology:

  • biological identification techniques (trace mineral markers, spectroscopic analysis, DNA testing)
  • track and trace technology (using barcodes and radio frequency ID)
  • anti-counterfeiting packaging and labelling (tamper proof packaging, embedded labelling, traditional labelling).

“Rapid technological advances in biological fingerprinting, nanotechnology, cloud computing and smartphone capability are bringing a range of varied product validation solutions to the market. This includes the use of DNA and trace mineral markers to verify product origin, barcodes and radio frequency identification chips to trace products through the supply chain, and embedded devices and markers in product packaging and labelling to prevent counterfeiting,” said Mr Hoban.

Released as part of a series of reports from RIRDC’s National Rural Issues program, the report aims to inform decision making and policy debate by Government and industry.

John Harvey, RIRDC’s Managing Director, said the study will provide industry and policy makers with current and independent analysis to help inform their decisions.

“An interesting finding of the report is that much of the innovation occurring in the area of product validation is being driven by individual companies seeking to gain a market edge over competitors. Any future country of origin or industry wide validation system will need to take this into account, to ensure such strategies operate to complement and encourage validation and product differentiation investment by individual businesses,” Mr Harvey said.

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