Food traceability has long been top of the agenda for people, businesses and governments. But with recent scandals and renewed interest in supply chain traceability as the next step in food safety and ethics, blockchain is poised to support significant changes across the agri-food sector.
Blockchain's unique ability to record the entire lifecycle of food products securely and transparently, from origin through every point of contact on its journey, promises to bolster credibility, efficiency, and safety across the sector. Using blockchain platforms like Y Platform, brands can give consumers the ability to trace their meal from 'farm to fork' with a quick scan of a QR code.
This transformation is already coming. But what is blockchain, and how can businesses unlock the benefits without the headache of new, complicated systems that disrupt their existing processes?
What is blockchain?
For most people, blockchain still means crypto-currencies and all the volatility that comes with that market.
That is not quite right. Blockchain is a database that organises data and content in a different way to traditional databases.
With blockchain, instead of overwriting data when it is changed, the platform (called a blockchain) creates an immutable ledger of each data point. Instead of being stored centrally, it is distributed across the digital cloud – protecting it from deletion and tampering. Each data point is continuously authenticated with new data entry (each block) in the chain.
The immediate benefits to this are apparent - transparency and efficiency for dealers, suppliers, and counterparties.
Global regulation and the need for better traceability.
One of the significant movements in the agri-food sector is a growing concern among customers and regulators is food safety and ethical production.
COVID, recent food scandals, and the impact of food chains on the environments are all in lawmakers' minds. The WHO's warning that up to 420,000 people die annually from food contamination has raised alarm bells in many capitals. Some countries are already acting, with the recent introduction of a new law in Germany that commits food producers and retailers to their entire supply chain's full traceability.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) collaborated efforts to implement the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), which increases controls and preventative measures on food imports.
The European Union (EU) is rolling out the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) scheme for food traceability throughout the production chain for animals, plants or animal-based products.
It would be a mistake to think that this wave of interest in food regulation is slowing. We are still in the early stages of this new trend, but there is no doubt that similar laws are being considered in the EU, in Asia and across the globe.
What are the early adopters of blockchain doing?
The most successful businesses are already taking steps to respond to this increase in regulation – and are using blockchain technologies to do so.
In the USA, Walmart is exploring blockchain tracing already. Using standard systems, tracking a package of sliced mangoes took an internal team six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes to complete, reports Fortune. However, using a blockchain system, that same mango could be tracked through every checkpoint from the farm, importer, processing plant, cold storage facility, and store in a fraction of the time – often in seconds.
By slashing the time to trace those same sliced mangoes from days to seconds, Walmart can guarantee that it will meet new FDA regulations on traceability, make significant efficiency savings and prove product provenance.
Europe's largest retailer, Carrefour, has followed a similar path. The supermarket giant is testing blockchain traceability for free-range chickens, enabling shoppers to track each stage of production through their smartphones Reuters. Carrefour plans to expand blockchain to other food items including honey, eggs, milk, tomatoes, hamburgers, and salmon.
The business benefits are clear – lower risk from the kind of food scandals we have seen recently, better consumer confidence, efficiency savings and better data security behind the scenes.
Overcoming the blockchain challenge
For agri-food businesses that are not multi-national giants, the challenge of implementing a blockchain solution can seem daunting.
How do you register potentially millions of products on the blockchain without investment in complicated new systems? How do you maintain data integrity at all points in the chain? Data integrity lies in the hands of the data collectors and needs a validation system to avoid tampering. Having a unified system with definitive standards and regulations is the significant barrier to adoption.
As the world's first blockchain-based content management platform, Y Platform has been built with many of these challenges in mind. It delivers the solutions that companies need, including in the three key areas:
• Traceability – Y supports full content/product traceability with clear visibility and insights.
• System integration – Y integrates with existing content management systems and works alongside them, bringing the benefits of blockchain to business without the challenges of switching systems.
• Security – Leveraging blockchain's inherent secure systems, Y secures data against tampering and deletion from day one.
As the agri-food sector embraces blockchain technology's benefits, the need to stay competitive will drive the migration to new systems. Yaliyomo is already supporting companies who want to make the jump now and get ahead of the curve.