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What can Blockchain really do for the food industry?

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An app used to inspect the tomatoes is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone at Wards Berry Farm in Sharon, Massachusetts, USA CREDIT: Photographer: Adam Glanzman / Bloomberg

Blockchain technology could transform the entire food industry, some confident technology prospectors affirm, increasing efficiency, transparency and collaboration throughout the food system.

Consumers may be able to trace the source of their lettuce in seconds. The shippers could see if a truck is full before planning a delivery. The grocery stores could check if an egg carton is actually free of cage. Or could they? As the blockchain approaches its market debut in the food system, it is important to examine exactly how the technology will work.

It was Blockchain initially developed as part of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, but the technology in the context of cryptocurrency seems different from how it is developed for food space. Bitcoin's blockchain is an immutable digital ledger that works through a consensus of computer systems.

Bitcoin blockchain computers are essentially running to properly solve a calculation, and when one "wins" the race, it wins a unit of cryptocurrency and a block of data is added to the chain. The huge number of Bitcoin blockchain information systems is the reason why there is a huge energy cost associated with Bitcoin, a feature that would be harmful in agricultural space, where farmers need to grow more and use less.

In the Walmart-IBM blockchain & nbsp; which made headlines last week, the system is far more limited. It is open only to those in the Walmart supply chain, which will probably result in hundreds of users, not tens of thousands. As a result, there are fewer digital additions to the data chain, which means fewer verification nodes and, above all, much less energy spent overall. Even the IBM system is not without trust because its members are known to each other & nbsp; in & nbsp;supply chain.

A worker monitors a computer assisting in the selection of Florida green leather avocados at the New Limeco LLC packaging center in Princeton, Florida, USA CREDIT: Photographer: Mark Elias / Bloomberg

Blockchain is just a digital ledger, a digitized recording of any data added by its members, without the possibility of verifying the accuracy of the underlying data themselves. Since the truth of such data is not evaluated, there is no aspect of the blockchain technology that can guarantee that the cage-free egg is actually free of cages or that the lettuce is effectively free of contamination.

For Walmart, the technology will be used to tell stakeholders that a particular piece of lettuce comes from a particular crop in a particular farm, so if a consumer gets sick, government investigators will have an advantage over investigations. Rather than chasing a trail of paper for days, they can get to the source of a contaminated lettuce head in seconds, and this should mean less waste of products, less sick and more confidence in the food system.

Although the blockchain is advertised as the technology that could potentially solve all the challenges of agriculture, it is not necessarily clear why & blockchain is better than something like a database or any other form of digital information storage. Companies could simply create a database rather than build a blockchain, particularly since some of the original features of the Bitcoin version, such as untrustworthy verification, are not a feature.

It is not entirely clear why blockchain is the best technology for the work of transforming the food industry, and it may not be. It could just be that it is what is attracting attention right now, particularly when technology experts look for ways to transfer their experience and make their mark on the thriving agri-food sector.

Where blockchain & nbsp; begins to reach its potential & nbsp; and when'S & nbsp;used with other technologies and systems. & nbsp; At the same time that the blockchain is implemented for food traceability, for example, producers can also put in place systems such as advanced water testing mechanisms or increase buffer zones between green leaf growers and livestock farms.

When used with sensors and precision delivery systems for pesticides and water all connected to a network, as with the Internet of Things, the blockchain can be used to collect a large amount of data and use it in the field.

While blockchain is not able to verify that an operation on eggs is truly free of cages or what the operation is without cage, it could offer farmers a way to get more information to consumers. Farmers, especially those who do not sell their food to a farmer's market or who have the opportunity to interact with consumers, often find it difficult to engage the public, looking for ways to explain how and why they grow food. their. Blockchain allows farmers to obtain data from consumers, but what would be possible if it also provided more context? That'S & nbsp;the thing consumers really need to make informed decisions about their food.

Blockchain could be used to tell consumers that corn was grown with weed killer, for example, but maybe one day there might be a mechanism to explain why that herbicide is used, or a comparison between the herbicide and other pest prevention systems or removal methods. The complicated nature of agriculture does not always translate so well into a smartphone app, but even in this case, this could be a challenge & nbsp;'s & nbsp; too big for blockchain & nbsp; to be resolved anyway.

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An app used to inspect the tomatoes is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone at Wards Berry Farm in Sharon, Massachusetts, USA CREDIT: Photographer: Adam Glanzman / Bloomberg

Blockchain technology could transform the entire food industry, affirm some confident technology prospectors, increasing efficiency, transparency and collaboration in the entire food system.

Consumers may be able to trace the source of their lettuce in seconds. The shippers could see if a truck is full before planning a delivery. The grocery stores could check if an egg carton is actually free of cage. Or could they? As the blockchain approaches its market debut in the food system, it is important to examine exactly how the technology will work.

Blockchain was initially developed as part of the bitcoin cryptocurrency, but the technology in the context of cryptocurrency seems different from how it was developed for food space. Bitcoin's blockchain is an immutable digital ledger that works through a consensus of computer systems.

Bitcoin blockchain computers are essentially running to properly solve a calculation, and when one "wins" the race, it wins a unit of cryptocurrency and a block of data is added to the chain. The huge number of computer systems on the Bitcoin blockchain is the reason why there is a huge energy cost associated with Bitcoin, a feature that would be harmful in agricultural space, where farmers have to grow more and use less.

In the Walmart-IBM blockchain that made headlines last week, the system is far more limited. It is open only to those who are part of Walmart's green supply chain, which will probably result in hundreds of users, not tens of thousands. As a result, there are fewer digital additions to the data chain, which means less testing nodes and, above all, much less energy spent overall. Even the IBM system is not without trust because its members are known to one another in the supply chain.

A worker monitors a computer assisting in the selection of Florida green leather avocados at the New Limeco LLC packaging center in Princeton, Florida, USA CREDIT: Photographer: Mark Elias / Bloomberg

Blockchain is just a digital ledger, a digitized recording of any data added by its members, without the possibility of verifying the accuracy of the underlying data themselves. Since the truth of such data is not evaluated, there is no aspect of the blockchain technology that can guarantee that the cage-free egg is actually free of cages or that the lettuce is effectively free of contamination.

For Walmart, the technology will be used to tell stakeholders that a particular piece of lettuce comes from a particular crop in a particular farm, so if a consumer gets sick, government investigators will initiate the investigation. Rather than chasing a paper trail for days, they can get to the source of a contaminated lettuce head in seconds, and this should mean less wasted, less sick, and more confidence in the food system.

Although the blockchain is advertised as the technology that could potentially solve all the challenges of agriculture, it is not necessarily clear why blockchain is better than something like a database or any other form of digital information storage. Companies could simply create a database rather than build a blockchain, particularly since some of the original features of the Bitcoin version, such as untrustworthy verification, are not a feature.

It is not entirely clear why blockchain is the best technology for the work of transforming the food industry, and it may not be. Perhaps it is precisely what is attracting attention right now, particularly when technology experts look for ways to transfer their experience and make their mark on the thriving agritech sector.

Where blockchain starts to reach its potential is when& # 39; S used with other technologies and systems. At the same time that blockchain is implemented for food traceability, for example, producers can also implement systems such as enhanced water testing mechanisms or increase buffer zones between green leaf growers and rearing activities.

If used with sensors and precision delivery systems for pesticides and water all connected to a network, as with the Internet of Things, the blockchain can be used to collect a large amount of data and use it in the field.

While blockchain is not able to verify that the operation of an egg is truly cage-free or what the appearance of this cage, it could offer farmers a way to get more information to consumers. Farmers, especially those who do not sell their food to a farmer's market or who have the opportunity to interact with consumers, often have difficulty interacting with the public, looking for ways to explain how and why they grow food How do they do it . Blockchain allows farmers to get data from consumers, but if it could provide even more context? That& # 39; S the thing consumers really need to make informed decisions about their food.

Blockchain could be used to tell consumers that corn was grown with herbicide, for example, but maybe one day there might be a mechanism to explain why that herbicide is used, or a comparison between the herbicide and other pest prevention systems or removal methods. The complicated nature of agriculture does not always translate so well into a smartphone app, but again, it could be a challenge'It's too big for the blockchain to be solved anyway.

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