The recent Fipronil scandal – the pesticide used for pets but banned in the EU for use on livestock for human consumption, which apparently contaminated batches of eggs distributed in 15 European Countries – has once again put the ineffectiveness of the traceability systems and the lack of timely access to information on foodstuff under the spotlight. A fundamental issue for the European and Italian agrifood sector (the latter, in particular, characterized by the distinctiveness of its products for their quality). If on one hand it would, in fact, be highly desirable to be able to promptly block non-standard foodstuff prior to their arrival on consumers’ tables, on the other it is essential to be able to very rapidly trace the problem back to the source, once this has happened, quickly identifying those who are not subject to it (thousands of Italian farms) and single out (and punish) the wiseguys.
Digital technologies can offer a valid help in “protecting” the food supply chain, ensuring product quality inasmuch as they can make procedures to collect information related to all product production and distribution phases and broadcasting it along the entire supply chain – and in particular to the final consumer- more efficient and safe, with the goal of guaranteeing matters such as safety, origin and sustainability.
Two actual cases of digital innovation supporting the production of foodstuffs acknowledged by the market as high quality – particularly in terms of safety, sustainability, origin and nutritional characteristics – are what we are working on at the 4.0 Dairy project of the Smart AgriFood Observatory, and can mirror the opportunities we might leverage as a Country.
The first concerns the digital transmission of the animal feed tags directly from the feed mill to the dairy farm, to trace dairy cows’ nutrition and thus gain further guarantee of the quality of the milk received, starting from the products they have eaten. Such information is required to comply with the specifications of quality labels (DOP), as well as being useful in aiding producers in their choices, providing them with an additional tool to consciously select the feedstock and thus add another quality feature to the end product. An element which, valorised adequately will have positive response from consumers. The use of digital technologies would not only enable transmission processes to be more efficient and rapid – currently a considerable burden for feed mills, farmers and dairy farms – but also to guarantee the trustworthiness of the information.
The second case regards electronic prescription services, which is the mandatory registration and transmission to ASLs (Local Healthcare Authority) by breeders of the numerous information about healthcare procedures administered to animals. It is an extremely cumbersome activity which today requires prescriptions to be made out by hand, together with paper based forms and subsequent entry of information within a register that is examined once a year by the authorities. This data, currently not digitalized, could be used to prove to consumers and in the event of an inspection (also at European level), to what extent Italian farms respect animals’ well-being and sustainability, especially when connected to the processing of typical products. Furthermore, it enables to save great amounts of time and paper (we will present detailed data on the 25 of October at the trade fair conference “Lattiero-Caseario 4.0: l’innovazione digitale a supporto della competività della filiera” – Dairy 4.0: digital innovation to support supply chain competitiveness) held within the Fiere Zootecniche of Cremona complex.
The two examples represent tangible cases of how digital technologies can support food quality through increasingly effective traceability. And more are starting to show up down the line, also because of new technologies such as the blockchain, that we are aiming to evaluate applied to a specific case.
By Filippo Renga and Chiara Corbo, Smart Agrifood Observatory