When most people think of the blockchain, think of its application to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. However, the technology has the potential for much wider uses in a wide range of sectors, in particular agriculture and food. We are already starting to see some cases of use, since there has been a recent wave of large food and retail companies intending to invest in technology as a means of increasing supply chain transparency in the food system. For example, IBM has worked with Nestlé, Unilever, Tyson Foods, Walmart, and other food companies to use blockchain to increase traceability and tracking of certain products. In addition, Walmart now requires direct suppliers of lettuce, spinach and other greens, as well as farmers, logistics companies and other supply partners to enter the big-box food-tracking block from 2019.
Blockchain technology is a decentralized, distributed and digital encryption-protected accounting and logs transactions simultaneously on all computers (nodes) in a given network, once the nodes reach consensus on the outcome of these transactions. This makes the chain of records extremely difficult to tamper with or modify. The adoption of blockchain and other technologies in the agri-food sector will continue to grow with the demand for clear, accessible and authentic data and consumer pressure on food companies to increase supply chain transparency.
With the addition of Frank Yiannas, former vice president of food safety at Walmart, to US Food and Drug Administration personnel as vice commissioner for food policy and response, there is strong speculation that 39. Agency will require a blockchain technological solution in the future for food traceability and recall purposes. Given the importance of data integrity, the FDA may also consider requesting the use of blockchain technology to comply with the notice requirements for imported foods or for the registration of food facilities.
Outside of food regulation, participants in the agricultural and food systems sector should consider the following applications of blockchain technology, each of which would apparently be more efficient and less costly than the processes that exist today:
- Tracing and tracking livestock for quality of disease or carcass purposes;
- Access in real time to raw material prices and market data;
- Management of the exchange of assets, including transactions and payments, for deliveries of cereals or livestock;
- Access and tracking of detailed soil quality records, field applications, weather conditions, agricultural practices and seed type;
- Fighting food fraud;
- Verification of supply certifications, as organic, free-range, grass-fed, etc.;
- Monitoring of other issues related to supply chain transparency such as sustainable supply, country of origin or farm labor;
- Retail inventory management to reduce food waste; is,
- Provide real-time information to consumers regarding the management and care of the product.