In a country where food safety sometimes has the same odds as winning a game of roulette, one poultry producer in China found a new way to monitor its chickens: robots. Robot chicken nannies, to be specific.
Charoen Pokphand Group is China's third-largest poultry producer, and they use 18 robots chicken "nannies" to monitor their flocks - about 3 million birds - for signs of bird flu and food-borne illnesses.
"We want to control the whole chain from the farm to the table," said Xie Yi, a senior vice chairman of CP Group's China agribusiness unit, in a statement. "Problems sometimes involve human error, so full automation enhances the safety level."
The nannies are humanoid robots on wheels that roam the coops for 12 hours a day, recording bird temperature and movements. Sick birds are taken from the coops by human employees to protect other birds and to prevent contaminated eggs from reaching the market.
China is the world's largest producer of eggs and the second-largest producer of chicken. Their poultry industry generates over $100 billion a year.
But the Chinese food industry is fragmented and difficult to monitor. The five largest companies only account for 9.7 percent of market share. The other 90.3 percent is comprised of thousands of small, family-owned farms and roadside markets.
The World Health Organization estimates that 50,000 Chinese citizens die every year from food-borne illness, and in 2015, almost half of Chinese food processing plants failed to meet internationally acceptable standards.
President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government have called for building new laboratories to assess food risks, developing stricter standards and for improving monitoring in villages and towns.
- Robot Nannies Look After 3 Million Chickens in Coops of the Future (Bloomberg)
- Why Chinese food safety is so bad (CNN)
- Will China's new food safety rules work? (BBC)