Tracking food products with Internet

New threats about food come every day. Would we feel safer if we knew for sure the geographic location of the products we eat? The goal of the EU-funded GeoTraceAgri project is to track food products from the farms to our tables -- with the help of Google Earth.

It seems that there is not a single day without a new threat about our food and our health: mad cow disease, genetically modified crops, and now avian flu. Would we feel safer if we knew for sure the geographic location of the products we eat? This is the goal of the EU-funded GeoTraceAgri project which aims to track food products from the farms to our tables. After successfully creating a reference system and the computer infrastructure necessary to ensure the geographical traceability of food products, about 80 % of Europe is covered. And a complete coverage could soon be achieved by using a geoportal such as Google Earth.

Here are two paragraphs from the introduction of the IST Results article.

In the wake of successive outbreaks of food-borne disease in the past decade (think mad cow disease, E.coli, salmonella, etc) and the current fear over the possible spread of avian flu, public demand for tighter safeguards on the entire food production chain has never been greater.
"The certification of the origin of food products is a vital issue for Europe in the ongoing discussions with the World Trade Organisation," explains Michel Debord, project coordinator. "Americans in particular prefer to certify the quality of a product according to its brand and attach no real importance to its origin. European consumers, by contrast, want to know where the food that they eat has come from."

The GeoTraceAgri project started in 2001 for a cost of 3.39 million euro. Its goal was to use of advances in information and communication technology, satellite imaging and mapping to precisely track food products.

[Note: who are the people who give such ugly names to useful projects?]

But what was the structure of this project? It included tree steps.

The first stage of the project involved defining the indicators and determining the indicator classes relevant to geographical traceability in agriculture.
The next stages involved constructing a reference system for geographical traceability for selected agricultural sectors and developing the computer infrastructure needed to ensure the geographical traceability of the agricultural products.

Below is a screen capture of the management and traceability web user interface (Credit: GeoTraceAgri). "Its role is to manage agronomic data and keep the history of work that is being done on the plots. It is also to provide a unique user interface entry through a web server."

GeoTraceAgri management and traceability module

And below is a screen capture of the GIS/Web module cartographic web user interface (Credit: GeoTraceAgri). This module "extends the management and traceability module to provide several services related to geographic traceability.

GeoTraceAgri GIS module

Then a prototype was built "using a variety of different platforms, languages, databases, mapping engines, and spatial processing libraries." But what will be the next step?

Since January 2005, the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) requires farmers and producers in EU Member States to guarantee the quality of their produce, and to set up means of traceability using a single system of declaration.
A key aspect of the declaration system is the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS), which utilises orthophotoplans -- basically aerial photographs and high precision satellite images that are digitally rendered to extract as much meaningful spatial information as possible.

And with the expertise built throughout the GeoTraceAgri project, it is expected that European farmers will be able to comply with thses regulations.

"The main benefit is that geotraceability is fully objective and certifies the declaration of origin made by the farmer or producer. Today more than 80 per cent of existing data can be geolocalised and thus visualised on the Internet using geoportals such as Google Earth," says Debord.

If you want to learn more about this project, please read the GeoTraceAgri final report, from which the above images have been extracted (PDF format, 24 pages, 2.38 MB).

Sources: IST Results, February 7, 2006; and various web sites

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