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The farm ministry plans to test a computer system that uses integrated circuit shipping tags as a means of improving the distribution of perishable foods, ministry officials said Friday.

The data recording and recognition system is designed to cut distribution costs, facilitate the reading of data on perishables at various stages, accelerate distribution and ensure that food is fresher.

The rewritable IC tags allow farmers and distributors to input and read data on a wireless basis. They have generated keen interest within industry circles, with some viewing their use as a potential alternative to bar codes.

According to the officials, the ministry will request fiscal 2004 budget funds for related experiments.

It plans to implement the system in a few years.

IC tags generally measure 3 sq. mm. But including the length of the antenna, the size can vary from that of a matchstick to that of a business card.

Ministry tests would see farmers attach IC tags to small boxes of perishable items by inputting a range of data such as the names of products and their places of origin, allowing wholesalers and retailers to read them on a wireless basis.

The technology would allow farmers and retailers to cut their relatively high distribution costs for perishables by boosting the efficiency of sorting and collecting perishable cargoes and boxes.

The ministry plans to use the technology to enable relevant parties to track down the history of each product.

One challenge to widespread use of the technology, however, is the high cost of the IC tags, estimated at 100 yen each.

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