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The (Digital) Jungle: China's pork supply chain gets sensors, smarts

China is the world's largest producer and consumer of pork. A major retailer is rolling out sensors through its supply chain to trace products -- and disease -- from farm to market.

Upton Sinclair would be proud.

The world's largest producer of pork -- no, not bacon-happy America, but China -- will begin using software, sensors and GPS technology to track and monitor the meat as it moves from farm to market.

Last week, the Shandong Commercial Group contracted IBM with constructing a system to ensure food safety through its regional supply chain, which will allow it to monitor and trace the movement of meat from farm to processing plant to trucks to supermarket when it's completed in 2013.

That's a big deal in China, which produces more pigs than the next 43 countries combined. (The Chinese consume about half the pork produced worldwide.)

The system, like so many before it, comes in response to a crisis. In 2006, a fatal outbreak of porcine blue-ear disease killed millions of Chinese pigs, which suddenly drove up pork prices. The easiest way to avoid economic disaster is to improve accountability and safety along the supply chain.

The system -- which researchers from China's National Engineering Research Center for Agricultural Products Logistics helped develop -- starts with a bar code tag on each slaughtered pig and cameras monitoring the production process. Once the pork hits the road, the refrigeration containers it is stored in are monitored via temperature and humidity sensors, as well as GPS geolocation. (An alert is deployed if things get out of whack.)

Once it arrives to market, the pigs are further tracked by ERP and point-of-sale systems at each grocery store. The hope: if illness strikes, it can be identified and isolated quickly, limiting damage and avoiding the reactionary mass destruction of otherwise good pork.

The system is currently under evaluation by six slaughterhouses, six warehouses and 100 Inzone grocery stores across the Shandong province. If another outbreak strikes and the system proves useful, it will no doubt be rolled out by any business who wants to stay in business.

Photo: Stuart Webster/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com