Food scares such as BSE or so-called Chicken Flu could become concerns of the past thanks to a collaborative technology that will guarantee the integrity and authenticity of products in the food supply chain.

Likewise, live trials of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) are proving that it can also help end the headache of counterfeit drugs flooding the pharmaceutical market where they put patients lives at risk, according to expert speakers at Europes largest ever RFID Summit.

RFID/EPC (Radio Frequency Identification/Electronic Product Code) is the cutting-edge technology that will ultimately provide unique identification and security for consumer packaged goods (CPGs) from the point of manufacture to the point of sale as well as delivering improved in-store availability and shorter check-out queues. It was showcased at the largest RFID event ever held in Europe where it was heralded as the technology whose time had come.

More than 600 delegates from 28 countries including leading retailers, manufacturers, analysts, IT specialists, supply-chain experts and business consultants gathered at the Checkpoint RFID Summit 2004 in Barcelona to hear about how RFID/EPC is the natural successor to the barcode because of its ability to store infinitely more product information.
In the case of the food and pharmaceutical industries, both of which have suffered as a result of health scares, the conference was told how items could, over the next few years be tracked from farm to fork. 

This will mean that rogue or contaminated batches of food can be identified and isolated without retailers and manufacturers having to recall the entire product line which will help restore customer confidence.

This is an important and timely development because from 1 January 2005, traceability will be enshrined as a legal requirement for food products across the EU.  It is also about to become law in the US because of the fears of bio-terrorism, as explained by keynote speaker Hugo Byrnes, director Global Food Safety Initiative of CIES.

At the Summit, Paul Rudolf, senior advisor for the US Food and Drug Administration described the counterfeiting of high-volume, high cost drugs as a heinous crime which RFID could help eradicate. The problem currently represents one per cent of the US market, but the problem has increased almost four-fold over the last six years as sophisticated criminal gangs harness the internet to market their rogue products.

Rudolf argued that in other less developed countries, the problem of counterfeiting could be as high as 50 per cent. As a result the FDA is tackling the issue head on via a multi-pronged assault that includes international collaboration, tougher penalties, widespread education of the problem and the adoption of RFID on product and packaging.

The FDA described RFID as The most promising technology for implementing mass serialisation with a proposed timeline of 2007 for the commencement of adoption.
Another keynote speaker Pat Rizzotto, vice president global customer initiatives for Johnson&Johnson, discussed his organisations RFID trials involving authenticating cancer treatments which had previously fallen victim to organised counterfeiting.

According to Rizzotto, RFID has convincingly proved it could beat the criminal gangs and ensure that the treatments remained tamper free and reached the right patients with the right strengths, whereas previous batches had found their way back into the drugs chain showing signs of dilution.

The Checkpoint event hosted a Technological Village where delegates interacted with never seen before RFID applications and solutions for the retail supply chain.

These included smart in-store information points, merchandising technology and checkouts. These concept Checkpoint RFID applications are prototype designs to demonstrate how the technology will fulfil customers need for greater information and stock availability while at the same time protecting items from both shoppers and staff theft.

Senior executives and director-level speakers representing the worlds of retail, manufacturing and leading business organisations, also included Germanys Metro Future Store where RFID is being actively trialled with the public, Kaufhof Warenhaus AG, Group Galeries Lafayette, A.T. Kearney and EAN International. Many UK retailers attended including Marks and Spencers, British Home Stores, Littlewoods, Matalan and the Early Learning Centre.

The Summit took a pragmatic and realistic approach to the implementation issue.  The on-going debate surrounding the widespread roll-out of RFID both on pallets within the supply chain and at individual item level within store - has both educated and confused the various audiences. The Summit was able to highlight realistic implementation timescales of between now and 2010

Per Levin, Executive Vice President and General Manager Europe for Checkpoint Systems. The Summit was a great success and provided the platform for lively debate about this emerging and collaborative technology. It cannot work in isolation which is why events such as the Summit provide the opportunity to learn about the benefits and discuss strategies to reduce any negative impact.  The over-riding lesson learned from the Summit was that we cannot delay and that RFID/EPC must be on the business agenda now if we are to effectively harness the benefits to retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and ultimately the consumer in terms of greater availability and lower prices.

The Checkpoint RFID Summit 2004, organised by Checkpoint Systems, the world leader in radio frequency (RF) technology, took place at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona on April 28 and 29.

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