Us­ing Blockchain Could Im­prove the Chain of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion for Food Com­pa­nies

Blockchain, the list of trans­ac­tions filled out as goods flow from pro­ducer to re­tailer, could be key for catch­ing out­breaks like E-coli.

San Francisco Chronicle - - MEDIA PLANET - Will Rodger, Di­rec­tor, Pol­icy Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Amer­i­can Farm Bu­reau Fed­er­a­tion

Blockchain record-keep­ing is more than just a fad. It’s some­thing leaders at the world’s largest food com­pa­nies have de­cided is the fu­ture of their busi­nesses.

In­creas­ing trans­parency

Con­sider the re­cent news, such as the mul­ti­ple E. coli con­tam­i­na­tions of ro­maine let­tuce. These prob­lems arise be­cause we don’t al­ways know ev­ery­thing we need to know about food when we buy or sell it. In each case, some­one wanted to trace food from pro­ducer to con­sumer, or vice versa. At its heart, a blockchain is a big ledger: a mas­sive list of trans­ac­tions that must be filled out as goods flow from pro­ducer to re­tailer, or even back again. We once an­swered ques­tions like these with pa­per trails, a process that was slow and cum­ber­some. To­day we have lots of elec­tronic records, but like the pa­per that came be­fore, they’re scat­tered all over. The ro­maine let­tuce out­break took longer than any­one wanted to re­solve; ev­ery­one had dif­fer­ent records, and trac­ing the chain back to the sup­pli­ers took a long time. Now, imag­ine all those records were en­tered into a sin­gle record that could be seen and mod­i­fied by ev­ery com­pany who had any­thing to do with mov­ing that let­tuce. And imag­ine that all those en­tries were per­ma­nent, so that even if you made a cor­rec­tion, ev­ery­one would see that you’d made that cor­rec­tion. That kind of trans­parency would give food com­pa­nies and farm­ers far more use­ful in­for­ma­tion than they’d ever had. Add ra­dio-fre­quency iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tags, bar­codes or QR codes to the food we’re mov­ing and things get re­ally in­ter­est­ing. Sud­denly, those mil­lions of pal­lets of ro­maine could be au­to­mat­i­cally tracked from the very field in which they grew, to the check­out line and the restau­rant re­frig­er­a­tor.

The ben­e­fits

A func­tion­ing blockchain, sup­port­ers sa y,co uld trace out­breaks to the source, avoid­ing mass de­struc­tion of food that’s per­fectly safe to eat and sav­ing in­no­cent farm­ers thou­sands, maybe mil­lions, of dol­lars in losses. IBM is the first ma­jor player out of the block. The New York gi­ant has con­vinced dozens of U.S. com­pa­nies such as Kroger, Walmart, Dole and Tyson Foods to use its tech­nol­ogy. Over in Europe, mean­while, heavy­weights such as Nestlé and Unilever are us­ing the com­pany’s blockchain ser­vice. France’s Car­refour dis­count chain is look­ing at blockchain for its per­ish­able-food sales.

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