A group of food supply chain companies have announced a major blockchain collaboration with IBM intended to address food safety worldwide and strengthen consumer confidence in the global food system. The consortium includes Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart, who will work with IBM to identify new areas where the global supply chain can benefit from blockchain.
Every year, one-in-ten people fall ill – and 400,000 die – due to contaminated food.* Many of the critical issues impacting food safety such as cross-contamination, the spread of food-borne illness, unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls are magnified by lack of access to information and traceability. It can take weeks to identify the precise point of contamination, causing further illness, lost revenue and wasted product. For example, it took more than two months to identify the farm source of contamination in a recent incidence of salmonella in papayas.
Blockchain is ideally suited to help address these challenges because it establishes a trusted environment for all transactions. In the case of the global food supply chain, all participants -growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers – can gain permissioned access to known and trusted information regarding the origin and state of food for their transactions. This can enable food providers and other members of the ecosystem to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source in a short amount of time to ensure safe removal from store shelves and stem the spread of illnesses.
Strengthening trust across the global food supply ecosystem
In parallel trials in China and the U.S., IBM and Walmart recently demonstrated that blockchain can be used to track a product from a farm through every stage of the supply chain, right to the retail shelf, in seconds instead of days or weeks.
These trials also demonstrated that stakeholders throughout the global food supply chain view food safety as a collaborative issue, rather than a competitive one, and are willing to work together to improve the food system for everyone.
“Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system – equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviours. It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network. This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all,” says Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety, Walmart.
How Blockchain works
Beyond food supply chain applications, blockchains are now being used to transform processes and streamline transactions for everything from flowers, real estate and trade finance, to education, insurance and medical services.
Database software giant Oracle is also now an official a player in the world of blockchain. The firm unveiled its enterprise-grade blockchain cloud platform at its OpenWorld 2017 conference in San Francisco.
Oracle, according to its announcement and statements from executives, is looking at the technology as a way to extend (and streamline) its existing cloud-based offerings, which are largely aimed at the digitization of a range of business functions.
*Source: World Health Organization http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/foodborne-disease-estimates/en/