When speaking of food-safety scares, few incidents in recent memory figure as prominently as the scandal surrounding the 2008 discovery of melamine-tainted infant milk formula in China.
The enormity of Chinese food demand and production means that malpractice by a just a small number of companies in the supply chain can come to affect the health of many thousands of people.
The sheer scale of Chinese food production and the associated complexity of its supply chains makes it very challenging to uncover malpractice. But, given the extraordinary amount of people relying on China’s food production, both within and outside our borders, it is absolutely essential that we ensure the quality and safety of every step in its food production process.
The Chinese administration has recognized that reliable technical solutions are required to ensure systematic, continuous review of the movements of food products through the supply chain.
Indeed, new technologies are being rolled-out to support a variety of industry sectors as China pursues its ‘informatization strategy’, a strategy that emphasizes the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in crafting sustainable development practices.
In the food-production industry, China’s information strategy has led to the implementation of the ”National Food Quality Safety Traceability Platform”, a product of the collaboration of the Chinese administration with the food-production and ICT industries.
The Platform looks to technological developments such as the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve the quality and safety of food-production supply chains, and in particular it makes use of the Handle System of the Digital Object Architecture to ensure the traceability of food-safety information.
To learn more about the technical capabilities of the Digital Object Architecture, visit the homepage of its developer, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), or download Recommendation ITU-T X.1255 “Framework for discovery of identity management information”, an ITU international standard based largely on the Digital Object Architecture.
In 2014, the Platform established connections with six large enterprises producing infant formula, including Yili, the largest dairy producer in China. By the end of that year, the number of registered handles for this application had exceeded 92 million, in reference to 31 traceability information items.
As a high-priority area in assuring public safety, the dairy industry is the first to implement the Handle System, but the system will soon come to support a much wider range of economic activity.
The Chinese administration has selected the Digital Object Architecture’s Handle System as the core technical framework for the ”National Public Service Platform for IoT Identifier Management”. This platform will make the Handle System available to all industries which need to capture and trace key information on the identity of goods, producers, processes – or any other element of a supply chain for that matter.
A key advantage of the Handle System is that all players in China’s enormous economy, regardless of the information systems they use in operating their business, will have a common interpretation of the identity information attached to work-in-progress goods or other components of supply chains. Any malpractice that puts consumers’ health and safety at risk will be traceable down to the exact company and process responsible.
China’s selection of the Handle System as the key component of the ”National Food Quality Safety Traceability Platform” was the subject of my presentation at the recent ITU workshop on “Combating counterfeit and substandard ICT devices”.
I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the technical foundations of the traceability system to consult my presentation, which introduces the ideas behind the traceability system’s design, as well as how the system is composed and the core technology and standardization issues are addressed during its development.
What we learn through this project will certainly be of value to other countries looking to develop industry-driven systems able to improve food safety, and we look forward to reporting the results of the traceability system’s implementation to other ITU Member States.
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