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New project aims to track poisonous food back to the farm




Nov.
25, 2008, Winnipeg–A pilot project in Manitoba has shown that is possible to
track food backward from the store to the farm.



This could be invaluable in the event of another food-borne
disease outbreak.

The project was a joint effort between the province, computer
company IBM and 16 farmers, processing plants, truckers and retail stores.

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Dr. Wayne Lees, Manitoba's chief
veterinary officer, explained Monday that expanding on the success of the pilot
project would require a move away from a paper trail and toward a computerized one.
Currently, a cow can go through dozens of hands on its way to the
slaughterhouse, butcher and grocery store, and everyone along the way may have
a different system of record-keeping. It can be even more complicated for other
foods such as vegetables, which are not individually tagged.

Officials are aiming to make the new
tracking system precise enough to follow a piece of broccoli, a carrot or other
item between the store where it is sold and the farm where it originated.

“The problem is, a lot of the
information in the food supply chain currently is being kept, unfortunately, (with)
paper and pen, and therefore not accessible in an emergency and also subject to
error and loss,” said Susan Wilkinson of IBM.

For the new system to work, everyone
in the food
supply chain would have to agree to store and share key information by
computer. Federal or provincial food agencies responding to a disease
outbreak could then instantly access the data, determine what other food
products might be tainted, and quickly have them pulled off store shelves.

Such a system would be valuable in a
case such as the listeriosis outbreak traced to a Maple Leaf Foods processing
plant in Toronto. The outbreak was linked to 20 deaths across Canada last
summer. The planned tracing system would not only track foods back to plants,
but would also quickly reveal the various producers, truckers and others who
handled the food.

However, getting farmers, truckers,
storekeepers and other to agree on a common system may take time.

“I liken traceability to building
the national railway system,” Lees said. “It had to go across all kinds of
different terrain and it had to go across all kinds of different jurisdictions
… but with collective will, you can do it.”