Food safety (https://pixabay.com/en/gm-food-banana-chourico-1668167/)

A group of leading companies across the world’s food supply chain have announced a major blockchain collaboration with IBM (NYSE: IBM) intended to strengthen consumer confidence in the global food system. The consortium includes Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart. All will work with IBM to identify new areas where the global supply chain can benefit from blockchain.

Frank Yiannas, VP, Food Safety, Walmart (https://www.linkedin.com/in/frank-yiannas-3b106015/)
Frank Yiannas, VP, Food Safety, Walmart

Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety, Walmart said: “As an advocate for greater transparency in the food system to benefit customers, Walmart looks forward to expanding on our initial work by collaborating with others to accelerate exploration on how this technology can be used as a more effective food traceability and food safety tool.

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 that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors. It also allows all 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.”

Why does the food supply chain need enhancing

Every year, one-in-ten people fall ill – and 400,000 die – due to contaminated food. Many of the critical issues impacting food safety – such as cross-contamination, the spread of food-borne illness, unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls – are magnified by a lack of access to information and traceability.

A key part of the problem is the time it takes to identify the precise point of contamination. Delays cause further illness, as well as lost revenue and often wasted product. For example, it took more than two months to identify the farm source of contamination in a recent incidence of salmonella in papayas.

Blockchain and the food supply chain

The challenges embodied in the food suppy chain suit blockchain technology. Blockchains establish a trusted environment for all transactions. In the case of the global food supply chain, all participants – growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers – will be able to access known and trusted information. This will:

  • include the origin and state of food for transactions
  • enable food providers and other members of the ecosystem to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source
  • ensure safe removal of affected foods from store shelves
  • stem the spread of illnesses.

The participants will help identify and prioritize new areas where blockchain can benefit food ecosystems. This, in turn, will inform new food supply chain solutions. IBM will contribute by drawing on its multiple pilots and production networks in related areas that which have demonstrated how blockchains can deliver traceability.

Exploiting the IBM Blockchain Platform

Beyond food supply chain applications, blockchains are now being used to transform processes and streamline transactions for everything from flowers, real estate and trade finance, to education, insurance and medical services. To accelerate adoption, IBM is introducing an integrated, enterprise-grade production blockchain platform (with the inevitable raft of consulting services). Its purpose is to:

  • enable more organizations to activate their own business networks
  • access the capabilities needed to develop, operate, govern and secure these networks.

The IBM Blockchain Platform, available via the IBM Cloud, builds on blockchain successes IBM claims to have delivered to more than 400 organizations across financial services, supply chain and logistics, retail, government and health care. Developed through open source collaboration in the Hyperledger community, it includes the latest Hyperledger Fabric v1.0 framework and Hyperledger Composer blockchain tool, both hosted by the Linux Foundation.

The integrated platform enables multiple parties jointly to jointly develop, govern, operate and secure blockchain networks. this will help enterprises accelerate blockchain adoption. Features of the IBM Blockchain Platform include:

  • Develop – for developers: easy and flexible network tools designed to bring blockchain networks up to speed in minutes. The platform also includes the first commercial introduction of Hyperledger Composer. A framework to help developers focus on the business use case and more easily and quickly map it to the application code.
  • Govern: the platform offers all participating members a level of control, while preventing any one member from having exclusive control. A new class of democratic governance tools improves productivity across organizations using a voting process that collects signatures from members to govern member invitation distribution of smart contracts and creation of transactions channels. By quickly on-boarding participants, assigning roles and managing access, organizations can begin transacting via the blockchain.
  • Operate: an architecture underpins the platform. This is available to allow updates to be made to the network while it is running without any downtime. It runs in the IBM Cloud and offers protection from insider credential abuse, protection from malware and hardware encryption key protection.

What does it mean

The idea of strengthening trust across the global food supply chain and associated ecosystems is not new. But this initiative, involving major food vendors is, potentially, a big step forward.

It also demonstrates that blockchain is about more than money and financial services. Arguably, without the extra value and security considerations inherent in fintech blockchains, progress is possible much faster. It will also deliver direct human benefits.

Also of interest is that IBM claims its Blockchain Platform provides the highest-level commercially available tamper resistant FIPS140-2 level 4 protection for encryption keys. Even IBM cannot access the blockchain ecosystem’s encrypted data, even under court order. If proven true this is a capability which could add credibility and speed up adoption.

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Charles Brett is a business/technology analyst consultant. His specialist areas include enterprise software, blockchain and enterprise mobility tech (including metering). Specific industry sectors of interest and experience include finance (especially systems supporting wholesale finance), telecommunications and energy. Charles has spoken at multiple industry conferences, has written for numerous publications (including the London Times and the Financial Times). He was the General Chair of the bi-annual High Performance Systems Workshop, 2005. In addition he is an author and novelist. His Technology books include: Making the Most of Mobility Vol I (eBook, 2012); Explaining iTunes, iPhones and iPads for Windows Users (eBook, 2011); 5 Axes of Business Application Integration (2004). His published novels, in the Corruption Series, include: The HolyPhone Confessional Crisis, Corruption’s Price: A Spanish Deceit and Virginity Despoiled. The fourth in The Corruption Series - Resurrection - has is now available. Charles has a B.A. and M.A in Modern History from the University of Oxford. He has lived or worked in Italy, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, California and New York, Spain, Israel, Estonia and Cyprus.

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