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“Invisible ink” from the farm to the table

In traceability systems, the real protagonist is not the product, but the information. The label alone is no longer enough. A continuous, updated information flow must be guaranteed, one which not only accompanies the product, but grows together and as part of it, ensuring the protection of rights, quality, environment, value, safety and reputation.

The new frontier of innovation technology is to use the molecular container in which information has always travelled , the double helix that contains the very code of our existence: DNA. The so-called Biotag is an “invisible ink” stamp, recognisable only through specific equipment: a natural, safe, edible, tasteless and odourless marker.

Literally learning from life

To guarantee the authenticity of supply chains in the era of the global economy and of digital transformation, the challenge can be won by returning to the origins... of Life.

Does a longer, more complex, creative and integrated supply chain exist, than biological evolution?

“We human beings not only consume and produce data: we are data.”

Filippo Rizzante, CTO, Reply Group

What are Advanced Traceability and Biotagging?

Advanced Traceability is the infrastructure of hardware and software technologies used to collect data from different sources and transform it into useful information for the business. Advanced Traceability makes it possible to track products, raw materials, monitor all the various stages of production, refinement, distribution, as well as to identify the subjects involved along the entire supply chain.

The expression Biotagging refers to markers based on DNA and biological substances, in other words the creation of invisible markers consisting, for example, of proteins which when incorporated into the product, enable its traceability.

Biotags can be made by using DNA from the actual product, or using an external DNA, for example obtained from certain types of algae. There is no genetic alteration. The Biotag is like an invisible, indelible, univocal and non-manipulable dye – because it is much more complex from a computational point of view than a traditional barcode – which minimises the risks of counterfeiting, at the expense of excellence and brand reputation, as well as guaranteeing food and environmental safety.

Reply is the first company in Europe to have started experimenting in this domain

Using DNA as a labelling tool, to mark and track products in the supply and production chain may seem futuristic, but in reality we are there. The market is ready, consumers are pushing and current legislation in the sphere does not place restrictions on the experiments carried out, thus creating the space to develop and test new solutions. Reply is the first company in Europe to experiment in the food sector, an industry in which the issues of safety and health require maximum attention and strict regulation.

The Reply practice focussed on Biotagging took on this challenge in Italy, the country with the highest number of agri-food products with a designation of origin and a geographical indication recognised by the European Union.

REPLY USE CASE

The traceability of olive oil, with a focus on quality and innovation

Reply’s work is centred on a great protagonist of the Italian tradition: extra virgin olive oil. The EVO oil project was tested through a Proof of Concept in collaboration with the Consortium of producers of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the region of Lazio.How is it possible to guarantee the quality of the product, from the soil to the bottle? The experiment carried out, on a batch not intended for sale, began with the washing of the olives harvested from olive trees with a water-based liquid containing the Biotag obtained from certain algae. These are present in such an infinitesimal percentage (in the order of parts per billion), that they are imperceptible and do not alter the organoleptic and nutritional characteristics of the product in the slightest. Subsequently, the olives underwent all the various processing stages, up until the bottling of the EVO oil.

Thanks to the olives being washed with the Biotag, it is guaranteed that only olives harvested from that specific field are used inside each bottle of oil produced. Alternatively, the bio-marking can be applied even before the olives are separated from the tree, by spraying it directly onto the plants.The oil is subsequently checked, using a special machine capable of recognising the bio-marker and detecting its presence in the correct percentage, thus verifying that the product has not been adulterated. In this sector, as is often reported in the news, it may happen that other, cheaper vegetable oils, coloured with chlorophyll and/or beta-carotene are added, or even more severe cases of counterfeit products made with inedible oils, with processing waste or with kernels destined to become fuel.

The applications of Advanced Traceability are endless

In addition to protecting the purity, production quality and the designation of origin of olive oil, there are of course many other scenarios in which Biotagging and Advanced Traceability can be implemented. For example, monitoring the quality and origin of the cotton fabric used to make a shirt. Or ensuring that the grains we consume are 100% sustainable, organic, non-GMO and non-exploitative.

The possibilities are also endless for the fashion, luxury, art, precious stones, plastics and fossil fuels markets.

Technology assessment and market research on Biotagging providers

The study analyses current Biotagging and advanced traceability providers to understand how these technologies work, the approaches used, the goals set, etc. The study also analyses market trends in specific areas in which the Biotagging and advanced traceability sector works to identify current needs and solutions.


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