Who wouldn’t like to buy a bottle of wine? And to know in real time not only the producer, but also the vine from which grapes were grown to produce it? This scenario is closer to reality than we think, thanks to QR codes on our smartphone (which by now we all have in our pockets) which provide a raft of information. It is a vehicle that is already widely used by companies in advertising, but is also opening up a world of possibilities in the field of food safety. In international markets, in fact, a guarantee of the provenance of food that we cook does not serve simply to satisfy a careful consumer’s curiosity, but is an additional defense against counterfeiting and a quick tool to reconstruct and limit damage from potential contaminations. Indeed, the related costs of such issues are not insignificant, judging by one recent scandal, where traces of horse meat were found in beef preparations, and in that particular instance, its estimated economic impact reached €1 billion in Europe alone. (source: Coldiretti).
A project with three objectives
To explore the potential of new technologies is Cisco Italia, which together with its partner Penelope, is promoting Safety for Food, an initiative involving Expo 2015 S.p.A., Italy’s Ministries of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and Health; the Italian National Institute of Health; Italia sostenibile per azioni, (A Sustainable Italy for Actions), Agenzia per l’Italia digitale (Agency for Digital Italy), and the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan.
"It is a project with three objectives - says Michael Festuccia, Head of Solution LED with Cisco Italy
; the first, to build consensus and awareness on the issues of traceability as a pillar of food safety. The second, to create a virtuous cycle that helps spread best practices in this field; and finally, there is the area that we will deal with more directly, that is the creation of a worldwide database of food products. "This technology platform - with the contribution of the Italian company, Penelope - will enable the industry sector, governing bodies and consumers everywhere to obtain a complete tracking and tracing of products, in line with international rules and standards for the safety, quality and origin of food.
Wine, Italy's flagship
"We began with wine - continues Festuccia – as the flagship of the Italian agri-food sector, and among others, the entities that manage DOC and DOCG certification are already cutting-edge in terms of their organization and rules. So far we have mapped 75% of the 33,000 DOC and DOCG producers certified by Valoritalia."
Through the QR code, you can also obtain a genome analysis of the vines and the grapes used and the precise area of the vineyard from which it was gathered: all this is information that builds awareness among consumers and gets them more involved in the purchasing process.
The positive side of the project is how limited costs are, given that once information is catalogued, it is meant to be made available to the Ministry and certification bodies. "The biggest obstacle, however, is the digital divide - admits Festuccia - that mainly affects SMEs, the backbone of the food sector. The project is therefore an opportunity to speed up the digitization of Italian companies."
But can we be sure that the label can't be copied? "Although we plan to have a system of encryption and codes that make scams really difficult, the world of IT is constantly changing and information security requires constant updates - says Festuccia -. In practice, there is no killer application against counterfeiting. The real secret to protecting food production, in my opinion, is to add value to Italian production. The QR code makes it possible to tell more rounded and compelling stories and to foster a culture around our products, winning back credibility and space in the marketplace."
The database will be Cisco’s contribution to the scientific community, from the moment the CNR, Italy's National Research Council, takes its place at the helm, coordinating all those who are working on traceability. Even before the start of Expo Milano 2015,
the scientific community will have a means of meeting "online", to share and provide common paths of collaboration, and will be able to ratify an "Agribusiness Charter of Constitution": a document with guidelines and best practices for food safety, to be offered to the world as a legacy of the Universal Exposition.