IBM, Walmart, JD Harness Blockchain Tech to Improve Food Transparency, Safety in China

IBM has announced that it is teaming up with Walmart, and Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies to launch a Blockchain Food Safety Alliance to enhance food tracking, traceability and safety in China.

The four organizations will work together to create a standards-based method of collecting data about the origin, safety and authenticity of food, using blockchain technology to provide real-time traceability throughout the supply chain. This will encourage accountability and give suppliers, regulators and consumers greater insight and transparency into how food is handled, from the farm to consumers. This has traditionally been challenging due to complex and fragmented data sharing systems that are often paper-based and can be error-prone.

The standards will be developed in cooperation with food supply chain providers and regulators to enable a broad-based food safety ecosystem in China. IBM will provide its IBM Blockchain Platform, while Tsinghua University will act as a technical advisor sharing its expertise in the key technologies and the China food safety ecosystem. Together, they will collaborate with Walmart and JD to develop, optimize and roll out the technology to suppliers and retailers that join the Alliance.

Walmart is already investing heavily in food safety research and China via its Walmart Food Safety and Collaboration and has promoted food safety through its own supplier network, as well as working with JD. The two have been able to leverage JD’s experience in the application of artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data and other new technologies to protect customers.

IBM, Walmart and Tsinghua University have begun piloting the use of blockchain to trace food items, including pork in China and mangoes in the US, as they move through the supply chain to store shelves. Recent testing by Walmart showed that applying blockchain reduced the time it took to trace a package of mangoes from the farm to the store from days or weeks to two seconds.

“Blockchain holds incredible promise in delivering the transparency that is needed to help promote food safety across the whole supply chain. This is a fundamental reason why IBM believes so strongly in the impact this technology will have on business models,” said Bridget van Kralingen, SVP at IBM Industry Platforms. “By expanding our food safety work with Walmart and Tsinghua University in China and adding new collaborators like, the technology brings traceability and transparency to a broader network of food supply chain participants.”

The collaboration is designed to help ensure brand owners’ data privacy while helping them integrate their online and offline traceability for food safety and quality management channels. Companies that join the alliance will be able to share information using blockchain technology and plans include them being able to choose the standards-based traceability solution that best suits their needs and legacy systems. This will, in turn, bring greater transparency to the supply chain and introduce new technologies to the retail sector designed to create a safer food environment.

The insights gained from the work in China will shed light on how blockchain technology can help improve processes such as recalls and verifications and enhance consumer confidence.

This latest effort builds on the efforts of IBM earlier this year to use blockchain technology to improve food industry transparency. In August, the company revealed that it was working with a consortium of sector heavy hitters, such as Driscoll**’s**, Nestl****é and Unilever to explore the potential of blockchain to boost traceability and transparency along the global food chain, and address challenges presented by food contamination.


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