Inefficient systems used to manage the food supply chain are allowing foodborne illnesses to spread more than they should. These traditional methods are opaque and do not offer sufficient tracking and traceability features that are needed in today’s modern digital world. In recent times, blockchain technology has become a formidable solution to the problem of food tracking in supply chain management. Capitalizing on the merits of this emerging technology, Europe’s largest retailer, Carrefour has announced that it is now looking to launch a food tracking blockchain initiative for tracking agricultural products like eggs, chicken, and tomatoes as they move from farms to stores.
To get this project started, Carrefour will team up with IBM, a multinational corporation that offers blockchain-based solutions for supply chain management. IBM is a prominent blockchain solution company and has been working with a number of partners including logistics firms, producers, and retailers to create secure global supply chains for businesses.
The retailer giant had previously announced this year its intention to explore blockchain technology to provide transparency in it supply chain.
Carrefour will leverage the IBM blockchain platform —Food Trust, which allows industry partners to track and share data related to how food is produced, packed, processed, and shipped. With IBM Food Trust, food provenance can be traced in a matter of seconds compared to the traditional methods which take days or even weeks.
According to Laurent Vallee, Secretary-General of Carrefour, the company eventually hopes to expand the system to cover 300 fresh farm products across the globe by 2022. This will allow the retailer to secure its supply chain and promote trust amongst its customers. While interviewing with Reuters, Vallee stated that:
“The key thing for us as Carrefour is to be able to say when there is a crisis that we have the blockchain technology, so we are able to trace products and tell the story of the products.”
Food Tracking Blockchain To Combat Food Disease
The recent outbreak of food-based Salmonella and E.coli has raised concerns about the food industry’s ability to effectively manage food-related epidemics. Statistics have shown that almost 207 million eggs from a North Carolina farm were possibly contaminated with Salmonella in April this year. The United States isn’t alone with this problem; food poisoning cases related to Salmonella contamination have also been on the rise in Europe.
Supply chain blockchain solutions like IBM Food Trust will help enhance good traceability enabling supply chain stakeholders to efficiently track contaminated food products directly to the source; blockchain technology has the potential to significantly reduce disease outbreaks since authorities will be able to respond faster to emergencies.
Blockchain Becoming Popular
Carrefour is not the only retail and food company interested in blockchain solutions. Ten other similar companies including Walmart, Unilever, Tyson foods and Nestlé have also joined the IBM Food Trust initiative. In response to the Salmonella outbreak, Walmart directed its leafy green suppliers to upload their food product data on to Walmart’s blockchain database.
Chinese insurance firm ZhongAn has also partnered with the tech incubator business unit of Shanghai Blockchain Industry Development Research Alliance to use blockchain for tracking how chickens move from supplier to consumer. This platform will work in tandem with wearable devices placed on the chicken’s ankles which will feedback data about the animal’s location and exercise routines to the blockchain.
Mass Adoption Hurdles
Despite the apparent merits of utilizing the blockchain for managing food supply chain, mass adoption may not be so easy. Many farmers are used to doing things the old way and may feel reluctant to invest in a new technology or upload their data to the blockchain. These adoption challenges combined with the level of complexity of the food supply chain could slow down mass adoption of distributed ledger technology in the food industry.
Simon Ellis from U.S. based market research firm IDC expressed concern about the hurdles to blockchain adoption in the food industry:
“The efforts to convince growers to participate is not a minimal one,” he said. “Growers and farmers exist at dramatically different levels of technological sophistication”.