Blockchain is set to make big changes to how food makes its way from farm to table. A recent report by Juniper Research found that tracking food through the supply chain using blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) technology will save $31 billion in food fraud by 2024, and reduce compliance costs by 30%.
Just last week, global salmon farming firm Cermaq and French food company Labeyrie became the latest to put their food supply chain on the blockchain, announcing that they will be using IBM's Food Trust solution. Launched last year, it brings together a network of producers, manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers in pursuit of food traceability and efficiency through blockchain technology.
Cermaq and Labeyrie's implementation of the IBM Food Trust blockchain will see the firms use QR codes to trace salmon from hatchery to farm, tracking which vaccinations the fish have received and even what they've been fed. They join the ranks of several other major businesses all using IBM's blockchain solution to help keep food safe, including a veritable seafood platter's worth of shrimp and scallop suppliers. But what triggered this pattern, and why use a blockchain?
“Today, transparency and efficiency in the food supply chain are limited by opaque data forcing each company to rely on intermediaries and paper-based records," said Dr Morgane Kimmich, author of Juniper Research's report. "Blockchain and the IoT provide an immutable, shared platform for all actors in the supply chain to track and trace assets; saving time, resources and reducing fraud.”
One of the first companies to initialize the Food Trust within their operations was Walmart. A partner from the very start, Walmart set out asking its ecosystem of leafy green suppliers to join the initiative, providing a deadline of January 2019. One of the main reasons for the hasty onboarding of suppliers was the 2018 utbreak of E.Coli that contaminated supplies of romaine lettuce across America. The source of the outbreak was established, but it was hard to pin down where it had spread, since there was no clear visualization of which lettuce went where. This led to suppliers having to destroy all the lettuce on a contaminated route.
However, with blockchain technology, every company that handles the lettuce on its supply chain is able to scan each shipment at each location and upload it to the blockchain. This data can then be used to identify exactly where the contaminated food traveled, in order to measure the size of a potential outbreak and what other food may be contaminated too. In theory, it should stop wanton destruction of lettuce and other food on the same supply chain.
Following in Walmart's stead in April 2019 was Albertsons Companies, America's second largest grocer, with over 2,300 stores across the US. In fact, the pilot test run for Albertsons was to trace romaine lettuce in the wake of the E.Coli incident.
Blockchain is opening up a vast array of possibilities; as well as IBM Food Trust, other firms like TE-FOOD are using the technology to address fraud in food supply chains, even ensuring that food is compliant with religious laws. Even Coca-Cola is getting in on the action; and in November this year, the French supermarket giant Carrefour joined forces with food and drink conglomerate Nestlé to trace infant milk formula. Pretty soon, it seems, everything you eat from birth onwards will have been logged on a blockchain.