Customer story

Ensuring traceability in Uruguayan beef

31 May 2012

Traceability in the world market is becoming increasingly important to red meat processing companies. It is about creating market access, building and maintaining consumer confidence in products and ensuring a competitive, transparent supply chain. This requires both investment and commitment.

Uruguay – which exports about 75% of its beef production – is branding beef on a national level, and is now recognized as a frontrunner in this field. The country has an individual ear-tag-based animal identification programme implemented at all farms as well as one of the most comprehensive centrally organized traceability systems installed at all approved slaughterhouses in the country.

The Uruguayan traceability system, SEIIC (Electronic Information System of the Meat Industry) was set up by INAC (The National Meat Institute) in cooperation with Marel, and has been in full operation since 2007. The purpose of SEIIC is to gather and collate online data about bovine cattle slaughter and deboning in a central system, to ensure transparent management and the same operating data for all parties involved in the mandatory meat processing system – farmers, producers and the state. The system has proven to be a very positive technological leap forward, especially for the medium and small-sized slaughterhouses in Uruguay.

To gain access to the European markets, SEIIC is complying with the EU traceability regulations “EAN128” which stipulate that it should always be possible to trace a product one step backward and one step forward and that recalls can be effectuated within two hours of detecting that something is wrong. This is fully possible with SEIIC.

Production transparency benefits all

Hugo Köncke, Chairman of Information Technology at INAC
Hugo Köncke, Chairman of Information Technology at INAC

Real time information generated and obtained from central points at each plant is stored in a local SEIIC server in each of the 39 plants and in a main server at INAC in Montevideo. As Hugo Köncke, Chairman of Information Technology at INAC, explains, “Using our system, more than 25000 units of data per day from around 500 data collecting points are analyzed, validated and forwarded to the farmers and producers to document how they perform. It gives both them and us a very good tool for managing beef production and marketing the industry.”

INAC’s deputy director, Maria del Carmen Vilanova, continues, “When the system was first installed there was a lot of resistance from the slaughterhouses because they felt they were being ‘monitored’. This attitude has subsequently been transformed into a positive feeling about the system as a tool to provide traceability and a marketing tool with export benefits. The system has proved its worth, and a lot of manual paperwork has become superfluous.”

Traceability from birth to carcass cutting

The SEIIC system consists of seven data capture and registration points, strategically located in all plants in the areas responsible for:

  • Live weight
  • Bleeding
  • Pre-dressing
  • Classification
  • Deboning room entry
  • Deboning room packing
  • Dispatch of boxes

The capture points consist of Marel hardware, including scales, computers, printers and scanners. These then provide information about the slaughtering, deboning and dispatching processes via Marel production control software.

Three stages of traceability

The beef supply chain can be divided into three stages – and traceability is important in each of them.

  • From the cow’s birth at the ranch through delivery to the slaughterhouse
  • The killing of cattle and division of carcasses into cuts at the slaughterhouse
  • Delivery of cuts from the slaughterhouse to the importer, retailer and consumer.

The animals are first registered into the traceability system when they enter the plant and the accompanying information, such as the herd number, and the number for the producer, farm and ear-tag, is entered into the system.

Updating the software throughout

Click to enlarge
INAC Deputy Director, Mrs Maria del Carmen Vilanova and Chairman of Information Technology at INAC, Mr Hugo Köncke

Marel employs 10 IT staff for software and hardware service and support for the SEIIC project. With the extended 24/7 Marel help desk it is possible to detect device downtime on the spot. Actually, the Marel helpdesk may know that something is wrong with a device in one of the plants before the plant operator would even notice. Before installation the device uptime was guaranteed to be no less than 99%. The reality has actually showed uptime results better than that. The measured uptime is more than 99.56% - which means less than 1.6 days downtime per year – but in reality there is no downtime at all because the system is also “fault-tolerant”. So if any server in the whole chain has a problem the weighing terminals can work by itself without any disruption at all.

In 2011 – as part of a dynamic and constantly adapting system structure – it was decided to undertake a software upgrade to SEIIC. As a result, INAC and Marel are now working on the implementation of a new, improved system based on Innova production control software from Marel.

“Over the years since starting this project, we have worked with Marel to overcome a lot of structural difficulties. We have had many good discussions that have resulted in good solutions,” says Hugo Köncke. The close relationship between Marel and INAC has also meant that deciding to upgrade to new software did not involve any big risk. “We have a lot of confidence in the system and in the Marel organization. They provide excellent preventive and corrective maintenance of both software and data collection hardware,” continues Hugo Köncke.

“Uruguay is now recognized throughout the world as one of the leaders in beef processing, thanks to thorough marketing of Uruguay as a committed beef nation with focus on quality and traceability. This wouldn’t be possible without the SEIIC system,” concludes Maria del Carmen Vilanova.

Instituto Nacional de Carnes

INAC is the National Meat Institute in Uruguay – an official non-governmental entity whose role is to advise the National Government of Uruguay on its National Meat Policy as well as to implement this policy. INAC is directed by a Board with representatives from the private sectors of the industry and the producers.

INAC has the purpose of promoting, ruling, coordinating and monitoring activities concerning production, transformation, trade, storing and transport of meat, including beef, sheep meat, horse meat, pig meat, goat meat, poultry, rabbit meat and small game, their off al, by-products and meat products.