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IBM tracks pork chops from pig to plate

Patrick Thibodeau | Dec. 20, 2011
IBM is deploying technology that allows meat suppliers to track a single pig all the way from farm animal to pork chop.

IBM is running the tracking system in Shangdong Province on a limited scale in six slaughterhouses and more than 100 retail stores, but says it will running on a larger scale by 2013.

Chang said the company has a similar tracking project with a large U.S. retailer that is focused on produce, but IBM can't disclose the customer's name. IBM is deploying similar systems in Vietnam, Thailand, Norway and elsewhere.

Steven McOrist, a veterinary expert on pigs at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., said the technology of placing small barcode-type tags onto pigs for monitoring their body temperature with remote sensors has been around for a few years. It also has been adopted in a few situations globally, particularly if the pigs are more valuable, such as stud males or imported females.

"One would honestly have to say that the general uptake of this technology has been pretty low for pig farming," McOrist said, in part because of the difficulty in trying to keep track of the tags on the pigs, which will eat the tags and scratch them off.

Chang believes IBM has addressed the problem of keeping the tags on the pigs.

McOrist said the experience with these types of tags on pigs is that they probably assist in monitoring the early stages of a disease outbreak, such as blue-ear disease. "Other technologies, like blood tests, are still needed to clarify the actual pig problem and what the best solution is, in any given situation," he added.

The virus that causes blue-ear disease, which is known in the Western world as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) does not infect humans, said Federico Zuckermann, a professor of immunology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

Zuckermann said the technology IBM is deploying sounds interesting and ambitious if i it makes it possible to track pigs in their environment.

"The tracking system would be a great tool, but they would need to have veterinarians to analyze the information and make sense of it in order to have a chance to help control this disease," Zuckermann said.


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