The food industry has been abuzz with talk of traceability as of late, with the emergence of new technologies — such as Avery Dennison’s RFID tags and Sourcemap and Provenance’s new blockchain traceability tool — that are making it easier than ever for businesses to address inefficiencies and unsustainable and unethical practices along their supply chains. This week, IBM announced that it is joining forces with food sector heavy hitters to further explore the potential of blockchain technology to boost traceability and transparency along the global food supply chain, thereby strengthening consumer confidence. The consortium includes Dole, Driscoll’s, Kroger, McCormick and Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart.
Contaminated food causes around 400,000 deaths each year. It can take weeks to identify the precise point of contamination, causing further illness, lost revenue and wasted product.
According to IBM, blockchain technology could help address these challenges by enabling all participants in the global food supply chains — growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailer and regulators — to rapidly trace contaminated product to its source to ensure safe removal from store shelves and stem the spread of illness.
“Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth,” said Marie Wieck, general manager of IBM Blockchain. “Our work with organizations across the food ecosystem, as well as IBM’s new platform, will further unleash the vast potential of this exciting technology, making it faster for organizations of all sizes and in all industries to move from concept to production to improve the way business gets done.”
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Together with its partners, IBM will identify and prioritize new areas where blockchain can benefit food ecosystems and inform new IBM solutions. This work will draw on multiple IBM pilots and production networks in related areas that successfully demonstrate ways in which blockchain can positively impact global food traceability.
IBM has launched its own blockchain platform, which will allow multiple parties to jointly develop, govern, operate and secure blockchain networks to help enterprises accelerate blockchain adoption. The company also offers a consultancy service, which has reportedly helped major shipping and retail organizations to improve food safety traceability by 99 percent.
The tech giant says that parallel trials with Walmart in China and the US have demonstrated that blockchain can be used to track a product from the farm through every stage of the supply chain, right to the retail shelf, in seconds instead of days or weeks. The trials also demonstrated that stakeholders throughout the global food supply chain view food safety as a collaborative issue, rather than a competitive one and are willing to work together to improve the food system for everyone.
“Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system — equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network. This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all.”