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  • Hugo Walker

The EU’s traceable supply chains: Blockchain, legislation and challenges

The latest research by Dr Charlesbois and Latif highlights the EU’s world-leading traceable systems. But there’s more that can be done

Recent research by Dr Sylvain Charlebois and Noor Latif from Dalhousie University highlights the European Union (EU) as a leader in pursuing traceability within supply chains, using digital technology such as blockchain. The study highlights the importance of collaboration among governments, industry players, and technology providers in the agrifood sector to create scalable and cost-effective traceability solutions. While acknowledging Europe's efforts in boosting supply chain traceability, the study argues that more can be done. 

The 2023 study — currently awaiting review — explores the role of digital traceability in supply chain transparency and accountability. The study compares legislative frameworks, mechanisms, and support for traceability among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries.

The research indicates that traceability is now largely regulated, with most OECD countries, particularly EU members, having established national digital traceability regulations. EU countries adhere to specific regulations like 178/2002 for food and feed products, while non-EU countries follow different national practices. The study also observes the increasing use of blockchain technology for enhanced transparency, noting implementation challenges across different countries.

Advancements in technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR), are opportunities to strengthen Europe's agrifood environment's transparency and accountability. The EU is recognized as a gold standard in supply chain traceability, with comprehensive regulations and continuous monitoring, leading other OECD members. In the UK, the government has committed to assessing food security every three years, emphasising the importance of the Agriculture Act 2020.

However, challenges persist. Contrasting and sometimes conflicting regulations across different countries and trade blocs, for example, make consistent supply chains difficult. Meanwhile, the initial cost of implementing blockchain from source to shelf puts off smaller industry players from introducing digital tech and communications to their ways of working. Stakeholder trust and confidence in traceability systems require transparent communication from digital developers.

To crack the code and roll out traceability across global supply chains, the industry needs to sync up regulations and standards, invest in tech and infrastructure — particularly blockchain — and make sure everyone's in the know. Getting the word out about the perks and uses of these systems and prioritising data security and privacy are key to developing and adopting transparent, functional and efficient supply chains.

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