Romaine lettuce, beef, a famous brand of cereals, eggs, salad dressings: these were just some of the foods that consumers saw recalled in 2018.
In these and many other food safety cases, the CDC warning is consistent and yet confusing: if you do not know where your food comes from, do not eat it.
We need to restore consumer confidence in the global food supply chain, not just in the choices we make regarding food to buy, but in ALL choices made at every stage of the process from the farm to our tables.
And that's where blockchain could help.
Broken chain: $ 1T in waste
According to the World Health Organization, about 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – get sick after eating contaminated food with 420,000 deaths each year, resulting in a loss of 33 million years of healthy life. And for all its logistics sophistication, the food supply chain is in many ways broken. It is estimated that about a third of all food produced worldwide is wasted every year, at a cost of almost $ 1 trillion.
Statistics that reflect how these indicate the problems affecting the global food supply chain – problems aggravated by the lack of technology in our increasingly complex supply chain. In our ever-active digital world, many would be surprised to learn that much of the data describing how food is produced, shipped, stored and sold is recorded on paper, accessible to, well, virtually none.
During the recall of the Roma at the beginning of this year, the FDA noted that the large-scale investigation of the source of contamination was complicated because most of the documents collected were paper or hand-written.
Even when data is digitized, only one on and one in the supply chain is usually shared, respecting the minimum legal requirements. Participants in the food supply chain use silent record storage systems that do not usually interact. This lack of data transparency has a huge impact on food waste, freshness, safety and sustainability. This is why the berries can be moldy even before leaving the supermarket. That's why food recalls weeks instead of days. And that's part of the reason why we all throw out so much food.
To recover traction in the global supply chain, we need two key ingredients: a more effective traceability system and collaboration and trust between governments, manufacturers, suppliers and consumers
Fortunately, there is a global movement in place to replace the outdated and too analogous infrastructure that underlies the global food supply chain with a digital alternative. An alternative fueled by the blockchain to make the supply chain more transparent, authentic and reliable.
Blockchain is a trusted record system that is ideal for tracking the origin, security and authenticity of assets as they traverse the supply chain. The technology creates a digital record of every transaction or interaction – from the packaging date to the temperature at which it was sent on arrival on the shelf of a grocery store – allowing us to digitally trace the origin of the food from suppliers to store shelves and consumers .
But this is something more than the new technology. Basically, blockchain is based on creating trust among a diverse group of participants, while at the same time providing business value to all users of the network. Without a solid ecosystem of partners contributing with their data, agreeing a governance model and adopting interoperable platforms, the system simply does not work.
IBM Food Trust participants such as Walmart and Carrefour have taken the first steps in the adoption of this transformation technology. And Walmart is currently requesting its leafy green suppliers to adopt it. Meanwhile, governments and international regulatory authorities are considering the role of the blockchain in creating a new model for food traceability and supply chain transparency.
There is still a lot of work to do. At this point, while we have enjoyed a complete meal of traced food on the blockchain, less than one percent of the global food system is traceable on it. By digitizing data, linking this information through the food supply chain and participating in evolving standards, new ways to address food security will continue to emerge, making the global food system safer and more efficient.
With this kind of innovation, consumers will be able to buy – and eat – our green leafy vegetables, our beef and even our chocolate cake with confidence.
Brigid McDermott is vice president of IBM Blockchain & # 39; s Food Trust.