Published: Wed, August 23, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

IBM, suppliers partner to improve food safety with blockchain technology

IBM, suppliers partner to improve food safety with blockchain technology

According to 2015 figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly one in 10 people fall ill each year from eating contaminated food - with 420,000 dying as a result.

Drawing on previous IBM pilots and production systems in related areas, the collaboration is meant to reduce the time it takes to, for instance, identify the source of a contamination. During the pilot, Walmart discovered that it took six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes to trace a package of mangoes back to the farm in the United States where they were grown, whereas with blockchain this was possible in just a couple of seconds.

A total of 10 companies said they will share data and run trials with IBM, including Kroger Co, Dole Food Company Inc [DFCI.UL], McCormick & Company Inc, Golden State Foods Corp [GSFDP.UL], Driscoll's Inc and Berkshire Hathaway's McLane Co.

"Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth", Marie Wieck, general manager, IBM Blockchain, said in a statement.

IBM has introduced what it called the industry's first enterprise-ready blockchain offering, along with support services, a collaboration aimed at introducing the technology into the food supply chain and an initiative meant to boost the workforce trained in Blockchain. "Our work with organisations across the food ecosystem, as well as IBM's new platform, will further unleash the vast potential of this exciting technology". In June, the companies reported that early trials in the U.S. and China showed that blockchains can successfully trace food products from suppliers to retail and ultimately to consumers.

"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", writes Frank Yiannas, Walmart's VP for food safety, in today's announcement.

Some fascinating developments are already underway, including projects that use blockchain technology to trace diamonds, wine, coffee beans, cotton, avocados and fish. "It's not a competitive advantage; it benefits our customers to have greater transparency and traceability in the supply chain".

Some of the world's largest food companies are making a bet that blockchain technology, the digital ledger system that underlies bitcoin, can help improve food safety.

Walmart, the world's biggest retailer that runs more than 400 stores on the mainland, launched its food safety collaboration centre in Beijing in October a year ago to bring food safety innovation to the country, which had been rocked by various food-related scandals such as the repackaging and sale of expired meat as well as baby milk formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

A partnership earlier this year involved collaborating with shipping giant Maersk on a live trial that automated documentation processing using blockchain-based smart contracts. Now, it provides corporations with a "secure, transparent" network of information that will hopefully make the global food system safer for consumers.

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