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June 25, 2005

Reading your lunch

What happens when citizens are able to 'read' product-specific information directly from a package’s RFID tag using a camera phone? Few business people that I've met have thought the consequences through. The widespread deployment of RFID tags is seen mainly as a way to improve the efficiency of supply webs - not as a way for customers to find out more about a product's history. But consider the following: The Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), together with the University of Kuopio and the Helsinki School of Economics, have developed a prototype for a service that can help people make better food choices by reading product-specific information directly from a package. The service shows the energy and nutrition information of food, and also offers the possibility to use a food diary and an exercise calculator. But that's just a start: that same infrastructure could be used to tell the readerphone-wielding citizen where the food came from, and when; how it was grown; what it was fed or sprinkled with; and so on. Finnish test groups experienced the pilot system as "rewarding". But vicious fights for information control between citizen groups and corporations are inevitable when they realise that RFID tags have the potential to give more of the game away than might be comfortable for some players.

Posted by John Thackara at June 25, 2005 06:57 AM


this is an interesting development, though i am sceptical of the eventual possibility of finding out what the 'kip' is fed when bying a breast... it seems the commercial application lies more in providing personal exercise details as to how long you will have to run to burn off your stroopwafels...

"With the exercise calculator consumers can check how long they should exercise in order to burn off consumed food."
"The test users were especially happy in the use of personalised information, the nutrition and exercise calculator and the advisory content of the service. The service was used more at home than in a store."
- article

I also wonder about who controls the databases and what information they put in it...

"There are still challenges to increase the ease of use and to create and maintain required product databases."

is there not a similar german pioneered system being developed in which a consumer can check via a code on a product, on the web, to retrieve all the info related to a product? must get more info on that.
thank you for the info.

Posted by: audrey samson at June 27, 2005 09:32 AM

And I wonder why if this sort of technology is misplaced in this context. Is it so hard for people to learn or be taught which foods in which combinations are healthy? Apparently it is when the biggest stakeholders are not leafy-greens growers by food product giants like Ahold.

Maybe I'm jumping too quickly to conclusions, but I fail to see how this sort of techonology could possibly benefit the most likely manufacturers and producers of the healthiest foods we eat. Do we really need 'more product specific information' when it comes to buying local produce at farmers' markets?

Posted by: Debra Solomon at June 27, 2005 08:46 PM

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