From the May 2009 Idaho Observer:

"Smart Food" from IBM: The future starts today

International Business Machines (IBM), which helped Hitler track his people in WWII and is now helping Obama track Americans in 2009, is also entering the food tracking business. "Technology is shaping how it [food] grows, how it tastes and how it gets to your plate," IBM stated in support of its "smart food initiative."

Due to the increasing numbers of food product recalls from contamination—pet food, lettuce, spinach, peanut butter, baby food, milk and beef to name a few— IBM observes that, "Consumers worldwide are worried—and rightly so. Is their food safe? And where did it come from?"

Rather than lobby for the improvement of food production practices, IBM’s solution is to "tag" food items so they can be tracked back to the source if they cause people to get sick or die. "Track and trace technology," which includes 2D and 3D barcode and radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, allows IBM to provide the service of tracking food from "farm to fork."

The concept is consistent with government policies which are leaning toward more regulations for traceability than cleaning food production up at the source.

Besides meeting the demands of food producers attempting to meet new government traceability requirements, IBM argues that companies that utilize track and trace technology will "realize added value as well, such as a streamlined distribution chain and lower spoilage rates. In fact, consumer product and retail industries lose about $40 billion annually, or 3.5 percent of their sales due to supply chain inefficiencies. With innovative digital technology and powerful solutions, IBM is making sure food is traced properly as it passes though an increasingly complex global supply chain. IBM is also making that food heartier through biological research."

Farm to fork

From IBM: "The average meal has been through a complex supply chain by the time it reaches the dinner table. Dozens of companies are involved in the production of just a single rib eye steak.

"In the Canadian Province of Manitoba, IBM helped develop full traceability solution, providing business consulting and project management services, working more than 16 supply chain partners, including beef and pork producers, animal feed ingredient producers, feed manufacturers, farmers, processing plants, truckers and a retail grocery chain.

"Using Global Traceability Network (GTNet) software from IBM Business Partner TraceTracker, Manitoba’s project shows it is possible to securely and accurately gather and crunch data about a piece of meat from a variety of sources and share that information, at any step in the process.

"Butchers at Germany’s METRO Future Store do more than dress roasts. They also apply RFID smart labels in a solution designed with IBM. Each package is identified and recorded when it is placed into the refrigerated display case, which is fully equipped with readers and antennas to scan the label of each product as it goes in, as it sits on the shelf and as it goes back out with a consumer.


Moraitis Fresh, Australia’s leading fresh produce company, now grows, processes, packages and wholesales fresh produce through a branch network which extends throughout all major growing districts and retail markets throughout Australia.

"One aspect of the company’s operations that is not negotiable is food safety. Routine monitoring of microbial and chemical residue safety continually verify operational integrity at every Moraitis site," IBM said.

This commitment to quality, safety and traceability has led Moraitis to implement an innovative RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) track and trace system in conjunction with IBM.

Continuous monitoring

The project’s first phase included the use of RFID tags on tomato trays and the installation of tunnel readers from specialist supplier Magellan Technology over conveyor belts at Moraitis’ tomato grading and packing operations at Homebush Bay in New South Wales and Tatura in Victoria.

John LaVacca, IBM Business Consulting Service’s Asia Pacific supply chain partner, says Moraitis’ use of RFID technology will dramatically change the way business is done in the supply of fresh produce.
LaVacca says global mandates set by large retailers have helped to demonstrate the benefits of RFID and are lowering the cost of chips and readers.

"Traceability of food is something that is going to be hitting us whether we like it or not, so investing in this project was a serious business decision for the future," said Colovos.


In the past several years, the cocoa industry has been hit with a series of destructive fungal diseases that have cost the world’s growers an estimated $700 million in losses every year.

The Science of Sweet: IBM Research—the world’s largest commercial lab, in collaboration with Mars—the world’s largest chocolate company, and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, are teaming up to safeguard the world’s chocolate supply and help the agricultural community worldwide by going straight to the source.

According to its online video, IBM intends to genetically modify 70 percent of the world’s cocoa, the key ingredient of chocolate. Although it did not use the "GM" word, the video claimed that "researchers plan to use IBM’s computational biology technology and expertise to develop a detailed genetic map, identifying the specific genetic traits" and to "sequence and analyze the entire cocoa genome to create healthier, stronger cocoa crops with higher yields that can fend off disease and resist drought and pests. These ‘sustainable’ crops will help protect an important social and economic crop in Africa, which supplies 70 percent of the world’s cocoa.

In closing, IBM claims, "Unlike other genetic research, no patent lies at the end of this study, the website states. Mars will make its research results freely available through the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA), which supports agricultural innovation for both humanitarian and small-scale commercial purposes. This will do more than ensure the world’s sweet teeth are satiated. It will enable farmers around the world to grow new plants that are more disease resistant and require less water, fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers, yielding better tasting beans. And that is sweet science."