Tracking data from farm gate to dinner plate

Canada’s beef industry strives to show traceability and sustainability throughout the supply chain

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer
Better Farming

Blockchain is an emerging technology that provides supply chains with an online documentation system, which the agri-food industry can use to improve traceability and food safety, as well as reduce food waste.

Stakeholders input information into the system throughout the production chain, from farm gate to fork. Consumers can use it to access data that is important to them.

Participants could also use blockchain to help verify sustainable practices that producers implement in their operations, which could be important for value-added commodities. Farmers could then be recognized for their best management practices and consumers would know their products met certain standards.

BIXSco Inc., a company that offers a voluntary database to capture and exchange individual animal’s information, has developed a tracking system for beef cattle that has mechanisms similar to blockchain. This system, however, is already available for use in the industry.

The tracking system “was originally developed by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) about 10 years ago. They wanted to receive carcass data information from the packers using a data system that could then share the information with the producers,” says Deborah Wilson, senior vice-president of BIXSco Inc.

Following discussions with McDonald’s, who was looking for a partner to help track chain of custody for its sustainability initiative, CCA collaborated with Viewtrak Technologies to establish BIXSco Inc.

The company developed Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS). Major food companies have used the system in a few pilot projects already and it is quite user-friendly.

Beef Cows standing in pasture
    SimplyCreativePhotography/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

BIXS tracked “cattle in the McDonald’s Sustainable Beef Pilot Project which ran in Canada for all of 2015, up to May of 2016,” Wilson says.

“This project proved that cattle, with specific attributes, can be tracked from farm of origin right through to the time of harvest.”

The Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration pilot project is using the system as well in partnership with Cargill and Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+).

“We are tracking the chain of custody on the animal throughout the entire production cycle,” says Wilson.

Then, “from a trust fund that retailers contribute to, we are sending financial credits back to producers in the system, using BIXS.”

BIXSco Inc. is also a member of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which has created standards for sustainable beef production.

“We are the first country in the world to have a producer framework developed with standards that suit our Canadian production system and validate our sustainability practices,” says Wilson.

“We have the ability through BIXS to track that chain of custody. Producers are able to provide processors with track records of these animals. Their cattle have moved through a fully certified sustainable chain, which is what a lot of our retailers and restauranteurs are looking for.”

The BIXS system protects the anonymity of producers and facilitates the connection between live animals and the beef products that stock grocers’ shelves and are plated at restaurants.

The system can be used by “cow-calf operations, possibly grass or stocker operations, feeder operations, and packing plants. As the animal moves to the next stage of production, each of those blocks are similar to those of blockchain,” says Wilson.

BIXSco Inc. is integrating blockchain technology into its system. Right now, BIXS uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to track and link data for individual cows.

“The goal is to connect those RFID tags to blockchain technology, allowing retailers, processors, and everyone else in the chain to carry on with the custody of beef that is produced from the animals that we are tracking,” Wilson explains.

The system is fully integrated with VBP+ and the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency. It can also be synced with any herd management software.

BIXS’s tracking capabilities could play a very important role in the beef industry if the government enacts the proposed Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, Wilson says. (The government does not yet have a timeline for the implementation of the regulations.)

BIXS allows the Canadian beef industry to “show retailers that it is able to deliver sustainable meat,” she says.

“And the goal is to accelerate the volume of sustainable meat that we can deliver through the system.” BF

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