Flickr / Rowan Saunders
New technology will let eaters track what their poultry eats and does, and it may soon introduce chicken facial recognition.

Farm News Science Tech

Chinese insurance-tech firm ZhongAn is betting consumers will pay extra to see what their chicken dinner has eaten, how many steps it took while it was alive, and where, exactly, it grew up. The “gogochicken” program, which launched in June, lets users view details about an individual chicken’s life using blockchain technology. Someday soon, the company says, it plans to add facial recognition to its program, meaning customers may one day be able to get snapshots of their bird as it grows up.

Here’s how it works: A customer buys a chick four to six months before they’d like to roast it for supper. Soon after birth, the chicks are fitted with a GPS-enabled ankle bracelet that tracks the animal’s exercise, location, and food consumption habits. Customers can then monitor their growing chicken’s progress through a smartphone app as it scratches around in the dirt and pecks at bugs. It’s essentially a FitBit for the feathered set.

Track a bird all its life, the logic goes, and you can’t possibly be betrayed by cramped living conditions or any other unappetizing livestock-industry tropes.
That data collection process is useful even if the purchase-at-birth plan doesn’t catch on. ZhongAn also plans to roll out an in-store option where buyers can scan a raw chicken and glimpse the facts of its life—maybe someday, even its headshot. It’s unclear whether or not the birds will ever be affordable for the average consumer, as the first chickens were braceleted this summer and many are likely still clucking. The company hasn’t yet released its prices.

According to the South China Morning Post, ZhongAn has already outfitted 100,000 chickens with the bracelets. The company is hoping the country’s agrotourism trend will prove fertile ground for its baby-to-barbecue surveillance marketing; so far, it told the Post, the gogochicken project is forecasted to break even in the near future. Over the next three years, the company plans to expand its operations to total more than 23 million chickens.

The chicken cams and blockchain technology are ostensibly designed to usher in a golden era of consumer trust in farming practices—track a bird all its life, the logic goes, and you can’t possibly be betrayed by cramped living conditions or any other unappetizing livestock-industry tropes. A tracked bird is a safe bird, a tracked bird is an ethically-raised bird.

The business setup sounds pretty similar to America’s contract farming system, which has often been criticized for setting farmers up for failure.
ZhongAn also sees its project as a way to alleviate poverty. In an August press release, the company outlined its role in China’s “13th Five-Year Plan for Poverty Alleviation,” which strives to pull 70 million people out of rural poverty by 2020. The company says it plans to put its chickens in thousands of “poverty-stricken townships and villages” in time for the 2020 deadline, essentially building a vertically integrated, blockchain-enabled agribusiness wherein farmers raise the company’s chickens in rural areas before the poultry is fed into the food system. The company says the arrival of its business will help farmers line their pockets because they’ll be able to prove their chicken is free-range and organic.

The business setup sounds pretty similar to America’s contract farming system, which has often been criticized for setting farmers up for failure. But perhaps ZhongAn will be able to achieve its lofty goal of drawing rural residents out of poverty while still making money on gamifying the farming process. In the meantime, consumers will probably just be watching the chicken cams.

H. Claire Brown

Claire Brown is a staff writer for The New Food Economy focusing on food policy and the environment. Her reporting has won awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York and the New York Press Club. She is based in Brooklyn. She can be reached via email at claire.brown@newfoodeconomy.org or on Twitter at @hclaire_brown.

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