Food safetyIBM and Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies have announced they will partner in a ‘Blockchain Food Safety Alliance’.

Their intention is to form a collaboration designed to enhance food tracking, traceability and safety in China as well as achieve greater transparency throughout the food supply chain.

According to Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Industry Platforms: “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. By expanding our food safety work with Walmart and Tsinghua University in China and adding new collaborators like JD.com, the technology brings traceability and transparency to a broader network of food supply chain participants.”

Bridget van Kralingen Senior Vice President, IBM
Bridget van Kralingen Senior Vice President, IBM

Food safety

Every year one in ten people fall ill globally as a result of food borne diseases. As many as 400,000 die. This an issue that the food chain – food companies, distributors and retailers – must address. Blockchain is one possible part of a solution.

In combination in China, IBM, Walmart, JD.com (the largest e-commerce company in China and the country’s largest retailer, by revenue) and Tsinghua University have created the Blockchain Food Safety Alliance. Their goal is to enhance food tracking, traceability and transparency while achieving greater safety within the food supply chain. The intention is that, with collaboration between one of China’s largest retailers and its suppliers, safer food supply will come to China.

This is an extension of the work began in the US by Walmart and IBM earlier this year. The four companies will work together to create a standards-based method of collecting data about the origin, safety and authenticity of food. They will use blockchain technology to provide real-time traceability throughout the supply chain to encourage accountability. In addition this will give suppliers, retailers, regulators and consumers greater insight and transparency into how food is handled, from the farm to the consumer. Traditionally this is a both complex and fragmented, with multiple data sharing systems which are often paper-based and error-prone.

Blockchain Food Safety Alliance

Walmart, JD, IBM and Tsinghua University as an alliance will also work to develop the standards, solutions and partnerships needed to enable a broad-based Chines food safety ecosystem:

  • IBM will provide its IBM Blockchain Platform and expertise
  • Tsinghua University will act as a technical advisor sharing its expertise in the key technologies and the China food safety ecosystem
  • IBM and Tsinghua will collaborate with Walmart and JD to develop, optimize and roll out the technology to suppliers and retailers that join the alliance..

Walmart’s participation matters. It is already a world leader in global food safety. In China, it invests heavily in food safety research through the Walmart Food Safety and Collaboration Center. It has promoted food safety, both through its own supplier network and working with JD. In combination the two have leveraged JD’s expertise in the application of artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, big data and other new technologies for the protection of consumers.

IBM, Walmart and Tsinghua University have piloted the use of blockchain to trace food items, including pork in China and mangoes in the U.S. This monitors these foodstuffs as they move through the supply chain onto 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.

“As a global advocate for enhanced food safety, Walmart looks forward to deepening our work with IBM, Tsinghua University, JD and others throughout the food supply chain. Through collaboration, standardization, and adoption of new and innovative technologies, we can effectively improve traceability and transparency and help ensure the global food system remains safe for all,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety and health at Walmart

What does this mean

The Blockchain Food Safety Alliance is a broad-based initiative. With IBM as a blockchain technology leader, Walmart and JD.com as two of the world’s largest retailers and with Tsinghua University’s academic excellence, this Alliance has a solid foundation.

Companies that join the alliance will be able to share information using blockchain technology. The Alliance’s plans include being able to choose the standards-based traceability solution which best suits each participants needs – and legacy systems. If delivered as envisaged, the Alliance should:

  • bring greater transparency to the supply chain
  • introduce new technologies to the retail sector
  • create a safer food environment
  • enhance the consumer experience..

Best of all, the insights gained in China should shed light on how blockchain technology can help improve processes elsewhere, both geographically (for food safety) and in other industries. For example, improved recalls and verification can act to enhance consumer confidence if transparency becomes an expectation

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