Blockchain in the food supply chain
Food, it’s one of the most important topics and industries in the world today. The global food marketplace is huge with processors and manufacturers spanning the globe. As this industry has grown, so has the length, complexity and scope of production and manufacture processes and supply chains. The growth within the food industry is obviously directly linked to the growth of the global population… We all have to eat. Precisely because of this factor the manufacture and distribution of food is a hot topic.
Because of the size of this market we cannot hope to cover all aspects in one article, however it is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate just a fraction of the benefits that blockchain can bring to this industry. Let us just concentrate on a few of the opportunities that this emergent technology can offer to this complex subject.
Food fraud is nothing new it’s been around since the dawn of civilisation… as we have progressed and built civilisation upon civilisation it has endured…people were adding chalk to bread in the 17th Century and colouring vegetables with copper in the 19th Century. Rapid social and technological changes since industrialisation have increased the complexity and anonymity of food supply chains and afforded new opportunities for fraudsters to exploit consumers.
Today we see this opacity of food supply as a real threat to health and wellbeing worldwide. Take last year’s Brazilian meat scandal, where two of the countries’ biggest meat producers were accused of bribing health inspectors to turn a blind eye to malpractice which included repackaging beef that had passed it’s sale date and using potentially harmful food additives.
In 2014 we saw McDonald’s pulling their famous chicken nuggets off sale in Hong Kong due to their Chinese supplier Shanghai Husi Food being accused of re-processing expired meat.
It seems these practices will always continue until we can find a lasting solution to this kind of food fraud.
Proving providence and safety guarantees and committing them to the blockchain could well make this kind of scandal a thing of the past. Blockchain can do this because of the very nature of the technology involved. The distributed ledger technology ensures a transparent and immutable record of trust that can be applied from the very beginning of the food supply chain to the consumer’s plate. By storing this information on a secure and distributed global network of nodes it becomes virtually impossible to tamper with the data without it being identified and highlighted. This means that blockchain has huge potential for the traceability of food supply chains. Blockchain is set to be transformative in sectors that are low on trust or sectors where a high value is placed upon safety. As such the food industry is the perfect marketplace for blockchain.
With the establishment of monitoring technology such as passive RFID sensors that can monitor physical data in transit, cold chains become safer, food hygiene standards can be committed to the blockchain with a guarantee of immutability so that manufacturers can ensure that their suppliers are employing the correct transit standards for their ingredients.
Food supply chains are as fragile as any… there need be only one single point of failure for irreversible reputational damage to be done to any manufacturer, restaurant chain or distributer. Blockchain’s technological advantages guarantee that risk can be mitigated and controlled. When reputational damage can be a disaster not only to individual businesses but also to national export markets, the case for blockchain becomes even stronger.
But blockchain is not only an opportunity to tackle malpractice, it is also perfectly placed to bring clarity to food labelling and provenance claims also, it has the power to enhance businesses as well as protecting them. Where blockchain can really transform people’s already damaged perceptions of the food industry is where it can place the power of information into their hands. With a scan of a QR code the story of that product can be shown to them from farm to fork.
Traceability technology is what is needed in this changing marketplace. Consumers demand more than a “fair trade, “responsibly sourced”” or “organically produced” label nowadays, the game is changing, consumers are becoming wiser about their own choices and more distrustful of large, centralised food suppliers, and it’s a trend that is going to continue.
It’s no coincidence you can’t walk down the street today without being bombarded by the word, ”artisan” ,“sustainable” or “locally produced”… Millennials have had enough of this centralised food tyranny, where everything is marketed and nothing substantiated.
The successful future food businesses and brands understand that their activities revolve around a new way of looking at the market and recognising that to be top of the food chain you need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
A trusted, decentralised and transparent approach is the way forward and that sounds a lot like blockchain to us.