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April 20, 2017

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From farm to table, food quality is tracked

FANG Li can use scanning codes on her smartphone to trace the origin and transport of meat and vegetables she buys. As a doctor and mother of a seven-year-old boy, food quality is important to her.

“It is the top priority for my family,” said Fang, who said she is willing to pay any price for safe, quality foods.

Concern about what we put in our mouths has increased in recent years after a series of food-safety scandals in China. Most recently, national broadcaster CCTV reported last month that some online stores were selling food items imported from radiation areas in Japan. Older scandals involved additives in baby milk powder and tainted cooking oils.

Shanghai is establishing a food tracking system, which includes about 20 varieties of food in nine categories. Consumers can download apps on their phones or log onto a website to access data across the food supply chain.

Seres Internet Technology Co is one of the firms in the city working on the integration of technology with agriculture and retailing. It said it has invested “several billion yuan” to build a system covering the chain from farm cultivation to transport to purchase sites.

Seres-developed technology and services will be one of the exhibits at the 5th China (Shanghai) International Technology Fair that opens today. The aim of the fair is to show how advanced technologies can be applied to commercial and home uses.

For example, when a mother like Fang purchases pork at a local supermarket, she can scan the QR code on the packaging with her phone and see that it came from Anhui Province and ascertain what date it left the slaughterhouse. She can watch a real-time video of rice under cultivation.

With a new mobile application supporting virtual reality features, consumers can purchase food online, based on collected images and set-ups from brick-and-mortar stores.

The system of tracking the food chain is the latest development in the convergence of the mobile Internet and public consumption. It is part of a national strategy to find innovative ways to apply technology to the improvement of daily lives, according to government officials.

Seres, which operates its system at some farms and stores in Guangdong, Anhui, Sichuan, Jiangsu, Hebei, Liaoning and Shandong provinces, will expand to Shanghai and neighboring Jiangxi Province this year, said Edward Zhong, chairman and chief executive of Seres.

Using international standards for food-tracking, some vegetables like celery are already being exported to Japan, Zhong added.

Japanese has higher food-safety standards than China. They cover agricultural seeds, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, soil, air, water, light, nutritional value and transportation temperature, among other factors.

Without all the right boxes ticked, food from China can’t enter overseas markets, said Chen Meng, associate professor of food security and environmental health at Xiamen University.

China must establish more sophisticated standards to ensure food safety, using new technologies like the Internet of Things, Chen added.

Seres has already factored the Internet of Things into its technology. It is now doing research on adapting artificial intelligence technology to agriculture and retailing.

Such advanced systems also predict market demand for food and optimize logistics routes. As a result, food is fresher and safer upon arrival.

The three-day Shanghai International Technology Fair will be held at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center. It will host about 1,200 exhibitors from China and abroad, and is expected to attract more than 50,000 visitors.


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