Bar Codes on Veggies

Via the trade journal Wireless Watch Japan comes a story on Japanese cell phone users with built in QR bar code readers using their phones to check food safety,

“Forget any assumptions about Hicksville. Japanese farmers have little fear of technology. Rural Ibaraki Prefecture has turbo charged their QR coding for agricultural products tagging a wide variety of vegetables grown in that prefecture. Ibaraki Prefectural authorities and the JA Ibaraki Prefecture Central Union of Agricultural Cooperative cooperating with other farming and agricultural associations are adding QR code labels right at the point of origin. In the supermarket, consumers use camera equipped cell phones to scan the QR code on the label. The code links to a mobile website detailing origin, soil composition, organic fertilizer content percentage (as opposed to chemical), use of pesticides and herbicides and even the name of the farm it was grown on. Consumers can also access the same information over the Ibaraki Agricultural Produce Net website by inputting a numbered code on each label.”

Though we’re not Luddites, we have mixed feelings about this idea. On the one hand, it would be a great way to figure out where our food comes from, who grows it and how it was produced. The Japanese system even let’s you see pictures of the farmers who grew your produce. On the other hand, its application in the United States would also be a way for large agribusiness concerns and their friends in government to further marginalize small scale farmers unable to afford the technology, or unwilling to subject themselves to Byzantine regulatory schemes biased towards the big guys (see Joel Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal for more on how food safety regulations, like these, are often just a ruse to put small organic farmers out of business by making them adhere to rules to expensive to follow). This bar code scheme also raises privacy concerns. Will cell phone companies and supermarkets conspire together to gather marketing information on individuals? If I buy a Twinkie will my health insurance rates go up?

Even if you don’t speak Japanese you can kind of figure out how the system works by visiting the Ibaraki Agricultural Produce Net.

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  1. I guess I’m a chronic skeptic. I’m not sure I would even trust the big guys to be honest about things like soil content or fertilizer.

  2. Joel Salatin had a lot of cool ideas in that book about sustainable land management and a lot of eye opening information on some of the ridiculous regulations and bureaucracy that exist.
    Maybe instead of making things even more complicated, adding more paperwork and regulations, making people spend more money (it always comes down to that in the end)we could establish strong local food systems. Then instead of scanning your vegetables with your cell phone you could shake the farmer’s hand and ask him what kind of fertilizer he uses. I’m not sure how exactly that would work in Tokyo… more community gardens? Rooftop gardens? markets?

  3. that press release is from may 2005…any evidence that this was successful? it’s been more than 3 years since there was any news on it.

  4. I volunteer at a local Organic Farm for a CSA share and the Farmer was having his soil and water tested by the University of Vermont mainly in response to the Salmonella in Tomatoes outbreak where he will be able to use the results in Marketing and websites ect to say he is Salmonella Free .

    I suggested to him that he should get together with the other local organic farmers and have a farm code/tag on all boxed and bundled produce so we know exactly where our food is coming from ,there is traceability and it can be used as Marketing .He Agrees but doesnt know how they could implement such a marketing scheme …this post has given me a few ideas 😉

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