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  • Hugo Walker

Blockchain: traceability and transparency in food supply chains



While blockchain technology has been used with supply chains across many industries for some time now, it has only recently begun to make its way to the food industry. In the context of opaque food supply chains and swings in demand, blockchain may be the technology that helps food producers find equilibrium and transparency.


What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a digital ledger that records information within an encrypted system. It is impossible to change or hack, creating a reliable database that records every single transaction and distribution across a network. As such, it is popular as a tool to deal with complex supply chains: as each party has the same information, communication errors are reduced and greater transparency between suppliers is fostered.


Blockchain and food production

Blockchain technology can aid and benefit food producers in many ways. One particularly useful function is mitigating the losses of food recalls. By increasing traceability, the contaminated food can be sourced, and quickly, reducing the threat to public health and the financial fallout.


Walmart, the American megastore, uses blockchain to digitise the supply chain and mitigate the costs of food recalls, after an E. Coli outbreak in Romaine lettuce led to the hospitalisation of 20 people. Millions of dollars were spent on public health messaging, tracing the source of the contamination, and removing and disposing of all potentially contaminated products from stores. It took weeks. Now, with the implementation of blockchain, finding the source of contamination takes seconds.


The Vice President of Food Safety at Walmart, Frank Yiannas, commented: “With a blockchain traceability solution you could scan a product and trace that product back with precision and accuracy to source in seconds – not days or weeks… in the future, a customer could potentially scan a bag of salad and know with certainty whether it's been involved in a recall."


Similarly, blockchain technology can ensure transparency, helping consumers certify organic and fair-trade products, with greater knowledge about their true source. Bumble Bee Foods uses blockchain to certify their yellowfin tuna with accessible fair-trade data. Consumers simply scan the product and can see every ‘block’ in the supply chain, going back to its source.


It is very likely that we will see blockchain become more widespread across food production in the coming years, bringing the potential to create transparent, accountable and traceable supply chains.