Blockchain was first introduced in 2008 as the distributed ledger behind bitcoin transactions. The technology has since found many applications by governments and private businesses in different industries due to the ability to offer security, immutability, traceability, and transparency across a distributed network.
According to the Harvard Business School, true blockchain-led transformation of business and government is still many years away. That’s because blockchain is not a “disruptive” technology, which can attack a traditional business model with a lower-cost solution. Blockchain is considered more of a “foundational” technology that has the potential to create new foundations for our economic and social systems. While the impact could be enormous, it is predicted that it will take decades for blockchain to become mainstream.
What then is the relevance of blockchain for the food industry?
Generally, there are four key stakeholders that need verifiable trustworthy data, namely consumers, customers, regulators/governments and auditors.
Consumers may want to know if their food is sustainably and ethically sourced. They have started questioning the source of origin of the ingredients in their food. They want to be sure that what they are purchasing is actually what is on the label. For example, are the eggs truly free range or is the corn truly GMO free?
Customers may want to know this information but they need more from the data. They need trustworthy supply chain information that would enhance traceability and make the process more accurate and efficient.
Regulators may need to know that the data provided for key regulatory compliance activities is trustworthy.
Auditors want to know that the food safety records they are reviewing are true. With blockchain, auditees can now provide custody of truth resulting in better transparency and a higher degree of confidence.
There are several well-published examples from different sectors of the food industry where blockchain has been or is planning to be used to bring transparency to the supply chain network and gain consumer trust.
Walmart was one of the first retailers to launch a supply chain system based on the blockchain in 2019
The Sustainable Shrimp Partnership used the blockchain platform to provide complete traceability of shrimp for their consumers by verifying the authenticity of antibiotic-free product claims.
Nestlé used their blockchain platform to trace milk from farms and producers in New Zealand to Nestlé factories and warehouses in the Middle East. Nestlé wants its consumers to make informed decisions, so they want to utilise blockchain technology to share reliable information with consumers.
Cermaq salmon utilises the blockchain to ensure traceability and transparency in their supply chain. They are aiming at providing information about their fish; such as its origin and the kind of vaccination it was given. By scanning the QR code present on the package, the consumers can get access to the entire history of the fish.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Council implemented blockchain technology to enhance accountability and traceability. They developed a blockchain mobile app and web interface to trace palm oil throughout its supply chain. This automatically created an end-to-end digital database, enhancing transparency, accuracy, and credibility for stakeholders and end customers.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through the “New Era of Smarter Food Safety” have been encouraging the use of new technologies, such as blockchain to improve visibility throughout the entire supply chain.
Trying to predict the future of blockchain technology in the food industry is not easy since its history is so short. The relevance of blockchain in the food industry appears to be focused on bringing enhanced traceability and transparency to the supply chain. If governments continue to embrace blockchain, such as what we are seeing with the FDA, then we are likely going to see that blockchain is going to become more relevant in the food industry, however, it is likely that the adoption will be much slower than in the financial services.