Free range chickens

Chickens’ journeys from farm to fork tracked with blockchain, wearables and facial recognition

Image credit: Dreamstime

A Shanghai-based technology company has been fitting organic and free range chickens with wearable health trackers – and could soon introduce facial recognition technology – to allow Chinese consumers to track the health of their meat.

The meat industry has long faced questions over the humane treatment of its stock and the environmental impact of rearing animals for meat. However, in recent years, a number of high profile scandals have also raised questions over food safety.

In 2014, for instance, a food processing plant owned by Shanghai Husi Food - a major supplier for McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks and other chains in China - was found to be processing dirty and expired carcasses.

Now, in a move calculated to help rebuild trust in the meat industry, ZhongAn Technology is encouraging health-conscious consumers to track individual chickens through their lives on their farms, potentially even using facial identification technology to allow them to meet their meat.

The company has already been working to exploit blockchain technology to allow for the tracking of organic chickens from egg to supermarket aisle using the secure, public records of financial transactions.

Now, in its ‘GoGo Chicken’ project, the company is fitting wearable devices to organic and free-range chickens in order to allow consumers to track the lives of their meals. They will be able to follow the diets and activity levels of participating chickens. Using an app, consumers can even watch the birds on their phones.

“Each of our chickens wears an anklet since birth, which is an [Internet of Things] device that connects wirelessly to our blockchain-based network and sends real-time data about the bird’s whereabouts and how much exercise it gets every day,” Chen Wei, CEO of ZhongAn Technology told the South China Morning Post.

“When you shop and see raw chicken you can simply check on your smartphone app to know its birthplace, what food it ate and how many steps it walked during its life.”

The project was launched in Cha’an Town in Anhui Province. Already, 100,000 chickens have been fitted with the devices and ZhongAn Technology hopes to add another 23 million chickens to the project over the next three years.

Consumers also have the option to buy a chick and follow its growth over its months on the farm before it is taken to a factory for processing. Consumers visiting their chickens could be assisted with facial recognition technology, Chen has suggested.

“We are looking into the possibility of using facial recognition, as it could allow consumers to identify their chickens on monitors,” he told the South China Morning Post. Facial recognition software has already been demonstrated to work on non-human animals, such as to identify different cats and dogs in the Google Photos app. According to Chen, ZhongAn Technology is currently looking into the possibility of expanding this tracking technology to fish farms.

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