Blockchain: a new hope for food safety.
Since 2017, blockchain is on everyone’s lips. This word, sometimes a bit difficult to understand in its full subtlety, can be defined as “a distributed, decentralized, public ledger”. A time reserved for bitcoins collectors and investment bankers, the word has now spread widely in the food sector.
Blockchain… Ok but what for?
We know that customers are suspicious regarding some aliments, food groups or brands. In these circumstances, blockchain comes up as a guarantee of trust between all the actors in the food chain and its intermediaries (customers, farmers, brands, markets…). The idea to collect reliable and exploitable data enables a better health control (fewer food poisoning, deaths and scandals) and provides transparency regarding the quality and content of the product.
This exact transparency could change the food supply chain as we know it. Ideally, we would not have to face anymore food scandals. Try to picture the following situation: a supplier has a doubt regarding the quality of a product. In less than a few seconds, thanks to the food blockchain, he will be able to source the issue, well before the product is put on store shelves. No more problem and a real guarantee makes a happy and reassured customer.
In the States, the big actors of the food industry are standing ready. Eight of them, including Walmart and Nestlé, launched the Food Trust in partnership with IBM. For Frank Yiannas, Walmart Food Safety VP, this “Fed-Ex for food tracking” aims to trace food at a global scale, at each point in the farm-to-plate process. As a huge collaborative network, the platform invites processors, wholesalers, suppliers, manufacturers, influencers and innovators to give the consumers access to all the information about their products. Being French, I dare to say it is a brand new revolution!
Yet somehow, it is quite easy to let yourself be carried away by this sweet promise. However, this project isn’t without weaknesses. Internally, the unknown lies in the data, the essence of this technology. How can one certify the validity of this processed information? Or that the organization in charge of the collection can be trusted? Those two questions remains unanswered.
Externally, the blockchain faces many obstacles. If food giants are testing its viability and developing a technology that would spread to the entire sector, the legal loophole on this matter suggests a confrontation with the authorities that could hinder the expansion of this innovation. Also, the absence of experimented skills in the field, combined to a loss of confidence, can confuse the most fragile actors (small retailers and farmers) and cut back the links in a chain that is primarily based on the diversity of its participants. Blockchain in France: the Carrefour example.
In 2018, Carrefour was one of the first food companies to use blockchain in France. First on a chicken from Auvergne (in March), then on a tomato Cauralina (in July) produced in partnership with Les Paysans de Rougeline. To get the tracking information of a product (origin, producer’s name, culture method, date of planting), the consumer only has to flash the QR Code on the label. By the end of the year, consumers were able to trace six new products. Is this a big step for food? It could be. Let’s just hope other brands will be taking the same path in a near future.
The blockchain could be the missing link in the food chain. Ultimately, its extension to other sectors, such as slaughterhouses, would ensure a more decent animal treatment and increase the consumer responsibility regarding meat. But we will talk about that later!