"The holy grail of RFID is to produce simple, small, efficient transponders that are easy to mass produce and offer good operating range," said Trolley Scan managing director Mike Marsh. "The most frequent asked question is how well RFID systems work in the presence of metal - well the current answer now is 11 metres."
The major advancement achieved in the past month has been the development of a new generation of super-sensitive reader to match the requirements of the extremely low power Ecochiptag transponders that are now available.
"Trolley Scan has had to develop a new generation of reader that differs significantly from the standard backscatter receiver used for passive RFID in the past," said Marsh.
"With Ecochiptag RF power requirements dropping to less than 200uW, the reflected backscatter signal from the transponder was becoming so weak that it was not detectable 10 meters away in the presence of the energising signal at the same frequency using conventional backscatter receivers.
Marsh says that the South African-based firm's new receivers will serve Ecochiptags for sensitivities between 200uW and 50uW, which are under development. "The new receiver is able to detect transponders from as close as 2 centimeters out to 11 meters with no adjustment," he said.
"This dynamic range and sensitivity allow us now to develop portable readers that will need simpler antenna systems suitable for mobile use."
Such developments in RFID technology have been closely monitored in the US. The Bush administration has vowed to speed up creation of an animal tracking system, with its goal of identifying, within 48 hours of a disease outbreak, the animals involved and the farm, ranch or feedlot where they were raised.
This is a huge undertaking - there are 1 million livestock farms and 2,000 slaughterhouses scattered across the country.
However, the USDA has warned that it will take years to bring a nationwide US livestock identification system into full use to track animal diseases. Implementation is due to begin this year, in direct response to the first US case of mad cow disease.
But some industry analysts believe that a comprehensive RFID system could actually help producers make money by tracking how well their animals produce lean meat or have other traits desired by meatpackers. In addition, some form of animal ID or traceability system is clearly vital if the US is to regain global consumer confidence.
Following the discovery of a low pathogenic strain of the bird flu virus in Delaware and now Texas, a number of countries have slapped bans on US poultry. This of course follows the discovery of BSE on a Washington state farm.
As the new technology from Trolley Scan suggests, RFID is on the verge of transforming food production along the supply chain, from the farm right through to the supermarket. The question is simply when.