Ask most people about blockchain, and they will likely have some familiarity with how the disruptive new technology promises to make traditional paper ledger-based transactions obsolete, replaced by digital ledgers. Headlines abound heralding how blockchain technology will revolutionize financial services markets, which remain burdened by unwieldy paper trails and costly proprietary software applications.
However, not everyone knows that the move toward developing blockchain has direct roots in the erosion of trust that grew as the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 exploded around the globe. Blockchain allows people to record transactions securely via a decentralized platform without a lot of intermediaries. Because of the advantages it can bring to the process of tracing food sources, it also promises to have a transformative impact on safety and accountability in the food industry.
The evolution of blockchain leads directly back to a crisis of trust, and numerous companies are working on blockchain solutions that will increase trust in the food industry and improve food safety. Katy Jones, CMO of food traceability company FoodLogiQ recently spoke with The Spoon on the topic of California’s tainted Romaine lettuce. “[Blockchain has] potential to be a transformative method to open up transparency in the food supply chain,” she said. However, she also noted that without data built on a common standard and supply chain partners committed to gathering and reporting on that data, blockchain alone will not solve all the issues.
In other words, just as security experts often stress that security is largely a people problem, blockchain’s promise will only be fulfilled if people come together. That’s precisely what some new companies are focusing on. For example, Ecogistix is launching blockchain solutions working directly with farmers to provide the kind of produce traceability that could have cut the California Romaine lettuce disaster at the quick. The solutions provide orderly tracking of inventory, order management and fulfillment. With them, farmers can track and manage teams that are working in the field and in warehouses so Ecogistix can trace teams that actually packed specific cases. Ecogistix’s technology also meets the Produce Traceability Initiative’s requirements for case and pallet labels that integrate with blockchain.
Consumers are not the only people who stand to benefit. Many blockchain experts agree that farmers have everything to gain by opting in for blockchain solutions. In a recent interview, Sandra Ro, CEO of the Global Blockchain Business Council, said that blockchain technology could put more money in the pockets of farmers while improving the quality of food.
Additionally, standards are emerging for blockchain and food traceability initiatives. The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) outlines 7 milestones to implementing case-level electronic traceability in the produce industry. On its website companies can find the tools and resources needed to implement PTI requirements and work successfully with blockchain technology. PTI reports that blockchain traceability and transparency pilots are now underway with Walmart, Kroger, Wegmans, Dole, Driscoll’s and IBM, and “demonstrate the value of whole chain traceability.”
Ripe.io is another company altering the trajectory of the food system through blockchain technology and the Internet of Things. The company’s mission is to “[design] a radically transparent digital food supply chain, [harnessing] quality food data to create the Blockchain of Food – an unprecedented food quality network that maps the food journey to answer what’s in our food, where it comes from, and what has happened to it.” The company is focused on the people problems that need to be solved, and its technology connects food producers, distributors and consumers. With it, farmers can leverage IoT and sensors to automate processes and provide full sourcing accountability.
Just as blockchain itself rose from the ashes of an inflammatory crisis of trust surrounding a global financial crisis, its promise for the food industry is directly tied to getting farmers, retailers, consumers and more groups aligned together. At a 2018 Smart Kitchen Summit panel, executives from ripe.io and Walmart discussed the promise of blockchain in the food industry, food safety, and which groups of people need to get connected for blockchain solutions to work. Watch the video to hear the whole conversation.