Pork is a big business in China, which produces more pigs than the next 43 pork producing countries combined. The country consumes about half the pork produced worldwide, with the average citizen eating about a half a hog each year. Pork is a major pillar of the economy in the Shandong Province, one of China’s most important agricultural regions. To limit the impact of porcine diseases and prevent tainted pork from being sold to consumers, Shandong Provincial Municipality asked Lushang Group, one of China’s top 10 retail companies, and its affiliate research body—the National Engineering Research Center for Agricultural Products Logistics—to devise a system that would improve accountability and safety in the region’s pork industry.

In 2010, Lushang Group began working with IBM to create the new system, which is being tested by six selected slaughter houses, six warehouses and about 100 Inzone hypermarkets and supermarkets across the Shandong province. When fully deployed in 2013, the system will allow Lushang Group to monitor and trace the movement of meat across all phases of the supply chain, including farms, processing plants, trucks and supermarkets.

“When fully deployed, this system will give consumers in the Shandong Province confidence in the pork products they serve to their families,” says Wang Guo Li, director, National Agricultural Research Center for Modern Logistics Engineering. “As an agricultural powerhouse within China, our province is committed to improving food safety, and this system marks a significant step toward that goal.”

Using IBM WebSphere software, experts from the IBM China Development Lab and China’s National Engineering Research Center for Agricultural Products Logistics created a pork monitoring and tracking system that can extract and store actionable business information from the millions of interconnected sensors. The system brings a level of accountability and efficiency to every stage of the pork production process. These stages include:

Production: The process begins at pig slaughter houses, where every pig is tagged with a bar code bearing a unique serial number, which follows the packed pork products as they move through the province’s supply chain. In addition to tagging, better monitoring is made possible through the addition of cameras that monitor the production process right up until shipping.

Distribution: To ensure meat is transported at a safe temperature, Lushang Group has deployed temperature and humidity sensors and well as global positioning and geographic information systems. Using these technologies, it tracks the whereabouts of trucks and monitor the temperature and humidity conditions in each refrigerated container. If conditions exceed certain thresholds, the system sends an alert to prompt corrective action.

Retailers: Lushang Group addressed the final phase of the pork supply chain—the retailer—by helping select supermarkets connect their ERP and point-of-sale systems to the platform, allowing tracking of every item sold.

In the event a consumer’s illness can be linked to pork produced in the Shandong Province, the new system will be able to pinpoint which stores have tainted food, arrange a targeted recall and minimize the number of people who get sick while keeping pork that is safe available for purchase.