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Food technology with a healthy appetite for innovation

Food is as fundamental as it gets. And our relationship with it has changed with every year. Just ten years ago, most consumers were focused on eating a diet low in fat. Biotechnology was extremely limited in its application and considered somewhat dangerous. And few people knew what organic meant or why it mattered.

Today, the picture is one of heightened challenges. Food prices are soaring. Shortages have sparked unrest the world over. The threat of salmonella poisoning prompts the recall of millions of eggs. And every year, ten million people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases. At the same time, consumers are hungrier than ever for information about their food. They are better informed about nutrition and more aware of the environmental and societal impacts of everything they buy. In fact, according to an IBM Institute for Business Value (US) survey, two of every five U.S. and U.K. consumers say safety concerns dictate what food they will — and won't — purchase.

So what does IBM have to do with food? Food technology.

When Cyclone Nargis struck in May 2008, the people of Myanmar lost an estimated one third of their rice supply. Investigators in the United States were baffled by a mysterious salmonella outbreak that infected more than 1,300 people and cost tomato growers more than $100 million. These events illustrate the vulnerability of the food supply chain as well as the fragility of food supplies in general.

With innovative digital technology and powerful solutions, IBM is making sure food is traced properly as it passes though an increasingly complex global supply chain. IBM is also making that food heartier through biological research.

The future of food starts today.

A series of conversations for a smarter planet

From the FARM to FORK. Up to 50% of food is lost or wasted between field and fork.
Why smarter food in the UK - Less waste. A third of the food we buy is thrown away untouched. - Local sustainability. Half the vegetables and over 95% of the fruit consumed in the UK is imported from abroad and the UK ranks amongst the 20 least self-sufficient countries. - Smarter supply chains.  Our supply chains are inefficient. In the dairy supply chain for example, £1.5 billion is wasted annually through inefficient processes. - Safer food. Food-related ill health is costing the NHS in excess of an estimated £7 billion a year and the total number of contamination incidents increased from 421 in 2000, to 1312 in 2007.
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Pet food. Lettuce. Turkey. Baby food. Milk.

These are just some of the high profile recalls we've seen recently. Consumers worldwide are asking the same questions. They wonder, is their food safe? And where did it come from?

One solution is track and trace technology (US), including 2D and 3D barcode and radio frequency identification (RFID). This allows us to track food from "farm to fork." And now government regulations and industry requirements for quality and traceability are driving food producers worldwide to provide more detail on products. With an increasingly global supply chain, that detail must be comprehensive and reliable. And with that detail, companies can realise added value as well, such as a streamlined distribution chain and lower spoilage rates. In fact, consumer product and retail industries lose about $40 billion annually, or 3.5% of their sales, due to supply chain inefficiencies.

Farm to fork

The average meal has been through a complex supply chain by the time it reaches the dinner table. Dozens of companies are involved in the production of just a single rib eye steak. In the Canadian Province of Manitoba (US), IBM helped develop full traceability solution, providing business consulting and project management services, working more than 16 supply chain partners, including beef and pork producers, animal feed ingredient producers, feed manufacturers, farmers, processing plants, truckers and a retail grocery chain.

Using Global Traceability Network (GTNet) software from IBM Business Partner TraceTracker, Manitoba's project shows it is possible to securely and accurately gather and crunch data about a piece of meat from a variety of sources and share that information, at any step in the process.

The smart freezer

Butchers at Germany's METRO Future Store (US) do more than dress roasts. They also apply RFID smart labels in a solution designed with IBM. Each package is identified and recorded when it is placed into the refrigerated display case, which is fully equipped with readers and antennas to scan the label of each product as it goes in, as it sits on the shelf and as it goes back out with a consumer. The information helps the store maintain fresh products, control the environment in which they are stored and manage inventory levels with realtime sales data.