Tech can help you trace your salad and steak back to the farm

The blockchain is really beginning to bring trust back into the food industry and regulators are leading the way.
12 July 2018 | 6 Shares

Blockchain is transforming how we track the origin of what’s on our plate. Source: Wikimedia / Photo by Joe Mabel

People have been talking about blockchain for a while now. Several experts have laid out the different ways the technology can transform the supply chain market as well.

However, not much has been said about the ways blockchain technology is transforming supply chains in the food industry, helping people track the origins of what they put on their plate.

Fortunately, although much hasn’t been said about this industry and use case, there’s quite a bit that has been accomplished.

In fact, just this month, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that it had successfully completed a pilot using blockchain technology in a cattle slaughterhouse.

It’s the first time that blockchain has been used as a regulatory tool to ensure compliance in the food sector, according to the FSA.

“This is a really exciting development. We thought that blockchain technology might add real value to a part of the food industry, such as a slaughterhouse, whose work requires a lot of inspection and collation of results,” announced the FSA’s Head of Information Management Sian Thomas, with excitement.

In this pilot both the FSA and the slaughterhouse had permission to access data, giving the benefit of improved transparency across the food supply chain. A further pilot is planned for July which will give permission to farmers to access data about animals from their farm.

Next, the FSA will aim to replicate this in other plants and ensure that all those across the chain get the full benefit of the new way data is managed and accessed as ‘permissioned’ data to the FSA, slaughterhouse, and the farmer.

“Our approach has been to develop data standards with industry that will make theory reality and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to show that blockchain does indeed work in this part of the food industry. I think there are great opportunities now for industry and government to work together to expand and develop this approach,” said Thomas.

On the face of it, the use of blockchain and the benefit of transparency and trust in the food market doesn’t seem clear. However, it’s this technology that will help prevent things like the mad-cow epidemic of 1984 and the horsemeat scandal of 2013.

The fact is, several businesses and experts recognize the importance and role blockchain can play in making food safer. As a result, its application isn’t limited to the slaughterhouse.

IBM, who is working on several blockchain applications in food safety, believes the technology can make a real difference to the lives of billions of people around the world.

In Finland, for example, Finnish retail cooperative S-Group, is testing their Pike-perch radar solution that will allow consumers to trace their purchased fish fillet all the way back to the actual lake that the fish was caught in using a QR Code on the package of “Kotimaista-kuhafile” fish, or by logging in to a tracking website.

Using the solution, each participant in the blockchain will be able to record the information for their respective part, and that data can then be utilized by other participants, says IBM, the technology partner for the solution.

The reliability of the data is ensured, as once data is entered onto the blockchain, it can no longer be changed. This is a valuable feature as the S-Group has been working for years to provide greater transparency in both domestic and foreign food chains.

According to Senja Forsman, Senior Compliance Manager of S-Group retail, the blockchain is the next big step in food transparency.

Forsman told IBM, “The Pike-perch radar is a pioneer in promoting transparency. To start with the application provides information about different fishing sites. In the future, the customer will also be able to find out which fisherman caught the fish.”

Just last year, Bloomberg wrote about two bankers who figured out how to put tomatoes on a blockchain as well. Their venture, Ripe.io, a firm that uses blockchain in agriculture, and has big aspirations to weave it through the food supply chain.

Founders Raja Ramachandran and Phil Harris are working hard to make better tack agricultural produce, swiftly measure the quality of farming output, effectively reduce spoilage, and transparently document the supply chain.

There are umpteen examples of how blockchains can transform how consumers track and trace what’s on their plate, and with time, it seems as though the technology is gaining more traction in the real world.