How Blockchain Technology is Evolving Food Industry
Published by : Industrial Automation
We are living in a digital era and the technology of this digital world is changing rapidly. The interesting part of this digital revolution is that it directly or indirectly impacts each of us. Whether there is a change in the smartphone technology leading to a revolution in the flow of information, or an advancement in online security thus changing the way we do banking.
In many cases, a piece of technology or system starts with solving one problem, but the more that is understood, the further its potential can grow. For example, who would have thought that irradiation, initially designed for safe space food, would be used for food preservation or HACCP and become a basic requirement for the food industry?
What is blockchain technology?
In basic terms, a blockchain is a digital distributed ledger, maintained by a network of multiple computing machines. It stores data in the form of blocks that are cryptographically secured and immutable. The blockchain is the brainchild of a person or group of people known by the pseudonym and has become very popular among the IT fanatics.
Unique features of blockchain
Decentralized – Unlike the current internet system, there is no single server where entire information is stored. These data are saved as copies in different computers (called nodes in the blockchain world) and there is no central authority supervising anything. These computers are connected to the blockchain network. Due to this distributed copies of data (transaction), blockchain is also known as a distributed ledger.
Trustless – Trustless should not be confused with ‘not trustworthy’. Blockchain provides such a transparent environment that one needs not have a third-party to mediate or enhance trust between two parties involved in the transaction.
Transparent – This should not be misinterpreted as violating privacy. The identity of parties involved in a transaction is hidden via complex cryptography and represented only by their public address (code). While the identity is secure, all the transactions that are carried out by public addresses are accessible. This level of transparency enhances trust in the system while securing privacy. Blockchain Technology is Evolving Food Industry
Immutability – Any data entered in blockchain cannot be modified/tampered with in the future. This immutability feature of blockchain has made it so popular that it is being explored in all the sectors where data integrity and data protection is of utmost importance.
Understanding the immutability of blockchain
Information or data provided by each participant referred to as a transaction forms a block. This block is verified by thousands, perhaps millions, of computers distributed around the blockchain network. The verified block is added to a chain, which is stored as multiple copies across the net. This creates a unique record with a unique history. Modifying a single record would mean modifying the entire chain and in millions of computers (nodes), which is practically impossible.
This unique property of blockchain is due to the cryptographic hash function. In simple terms, hashing means converting all input data (information) or any length to a fixed-length coded output. Interestingly, even if we make a small change in input, the changes that will be reflected in the hash will be huge.
Application of blockchain in the food industry
Blockchain, when integrated with the latest technologies for data capturing, has huge potential in the food industry. Building on the respective strengths of blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT), we can revolutionize the food industry. IoT solutions link the physical and digital worlds, capturing data like temperature and humidity during transportation or storage of products. Blockchain provides a secure and immutable platform where this data can be stored and accessed by every participant in the supply chain.
In its latest report, ‘Key Vertical Opportunities, Trends & Challenges 2020-2030’, Juniper Research shows that blockchain used with IoT sensors and trackers will have several advantages. These are:
• It will streamline the supply chain, reducing retailers’ costs
• It offers simpler regulatory compliance
• It will enhance and expedite the food recall process
• It will enable $31 billion in food fraud savings globally by 2024
According to the 2019 policy paper by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), blockchain could dramatically transform the food supply chain in India. As per the policy paper, blockchain technologies can help in building an immutable contract between the various players in the supply chain, enabling further transparency in the system.
A smart contract can reduce the number of intermediaries in the supply chain network. These smart contracts can reduce transaction costs, improve margins and increase efficiency, and as a result, transfer a large chunk of profits to the farmer/producer. There are several IT giants who have made different blockchain platforms or solutions to the food industry. A few examples include Food Trust and Watson platforms by IBM, Track and Trace, and Leonardo platforms by SAP, Track and Trace, and Internet of Things solutions by Oracle.
Below, we have compiled several examples from different food industries where blockchain has been or is planning to be used in pilot-scale to bring transparency in the supply chain network and gain consumer trust.
• The Sustainable Shrimp Partnership (SSP) has collaborated with IBM to use its Food Trust ecosystem to provide complete traceability of SSP shrimp for their consumers. Food Trust provides a safe and secure platform where data can be uploaded and shared. This will help to verify the authenticity of product claims. In this case, data related to the shrimp production will be uploaded onto the blockchain which can be accessed by the retailers and consumers at every stage of the process. This platform will also ensure verification of the shrimp’s SSP qualification, eg, it is adhering to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) Standard and is antibiotic-free.
• Nestlé collaborated with OpenSc, a blockchain platform, to trace milk from farms and producers in New Zealand to Nestlé factories and warehouses in the Middle East. This is the pilot project, but a big step that demonstrates the company’s commitment to transparency. Nestlé wants its consumers to make informed decisions, so they want to utilize blockchain technology to share reliable information with consumers. OpenSc platform is founded by WWF-Australia and The Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures. Interestingly, in 2017, Nestlé introduced blockchain technology in the IBM Food Trust platform and gave access to its consumers the data related to Mousline purée in France.
• Nestlé and Carrefour collaborated to use the IBM Food Trust platform for their GUIGOZ Bio 2 and 3 infant milk range. The companies want to boost consumer confidence by providing transparency on their product – GUIGOZ Bio 2 and 3 packaging. This transparency in the supply chain further increased the benchmark for Nestlé and Laboratoires Guigoz, to ensure a high standard of care for high the quality of their products.
• Cermaq salmon and Labeyrie came together to utilize the IBM Food Trust platform to ensure traceability and transparency in their supply chain. They are aiming at providing information about the fish; its origin, its hatching time and date, breeding conditions, its length, time of its transfer to seawater, the kind of vaccination it was given, etc. Labeyrie, a leading brand of smoked salmon in France, is using blockchain technology for two of its Norwegian smoked salmon products. They are building transparency in the system by giving the consumers the opportunity to access all important information. By scanning the QR code present on the package, the consumers can get access to the entire information of the product.
• El Ordeño, one of the milk processors from Ecuador, adopted IBM Food Trust to bring transparency and reduce food waste. Through the QR code present in its TRU milk products, El Ordeño wants its consumers to get access to the information about the path that its TRU milk has traveled before it reaches them, from producer to quality centers, cold chains, and distribution centers. The plan is to scale the solution to all its dairy products.
• Organo corporations are implementing IBM Food Trust, to selectively share key information about Organa products with consumers, supply partners, commerce partners, distribution partners, etc. The business wants to ensure transparency, but at the same time, ensure a highly secured environment. Through this transparency, it is, ultimately, looking to build partner and consumer trust in every Organo product.
• The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) has collaborated with BloomBloc to implement blockchain technology to enhance accountability and traceability. It has developed a blockchain mobile app and web interface to trace palm oil throughout its supply chain. Using a smartphone, each tree and related information, as well as other information of additional checkpoints, are uploaded into the system. This automatically creates an end-to-end digital database, enhancing transparency, accuracy, and credibility for stakeholders and end customers.
Blockchain is a promising technology with multidimensional benefits. If used along with the IoT, we can establish a transparent supply chain of food, reduce food fraud, and build consumer trust. There are already many companies who are experimenting with this new technology and these trials will further build the capabilities of the blockchain technology and make it economically viable also to be accepted by the majority of food processors in the coming years. In order to bring this technology to the mainstream of the processed food world, food processors, supply chain participants, government authorities, and IT experts have to come together to build a comprehensive plan to implement Blockchain Technology.