Published: Wed, August 23, 2017
Money | By Armando Alvarado

IBM launches blockchain collaboration to improve food safety

IBM launches blockchain collaboration to improve food safety

A total of 10 companies have agreed to help IBM harness blockchain power, including Kroger Co (KR), McCormick & Co (MKC), Dole Food Co (DOLE) and Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A) (BRK.B) McLane Co.

Two of the world's leading fresh produce companies are working with IBM, retailers and other major food companies to explore how blockchain - a new, more secure record-keeping technology - can be used to make the supply chains safer and more traceable for fruit and vegetables. The blockchain is meant to serve as a transparent environment for transactions among the participating growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers and regulators.

Food industry giants including Nestlé, Unilever and Walmart are involved in the project, which could speed up identification of the point at which food is contaminated to prevent further illness, lost revenue and wasted product.

Numerous critical issues impacting food safety today, such as cross-contamination, the spread of food-borne illness, unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls are magnified by the lack of access to information and traceability.

Marie Wieck, the general manager at IBM's Blockchain business unit, said blockchain is "enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth". "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, making it faster for organisations of all sizes and in all industries to move from concept to production to improve the way business gets done".

Walmart, one of the consortium members, has already run trials of IBM's blockchain technology in China and the US, using it to store supply chain data.

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They will work with IBM to identify where and how -the blockchain tech could and plan to embark on several pilot projects.

In the USA, for example, it took more than two months for authorities to identify the farm source of contamination in a recent outbreak of salmonella in papayas that infected about 143 people in 21 states.

Given the complexity of the food supply chain from producer to consumer, blockchains could actually find a pretty interesting niche here because they would allow for more transparency and traceability (especially when things go wrong).

The food companies will now be testing out the IBM blockchain solution, but exactly how it will be implemented is still being decided, she adds. Nobody is happy when their competitors have food safety problems, because it raises questions about the food ecosystem as a whole.

Skeptics have warned that the technology is still in its early days and it may take years before companies reap benefits.

Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, was so pleased by the pork and mango trials that he rallied peers to join the cause. These trials also demonstrated that stakeholders throughout the global food supply chain view food safety as a collaborative issue and are willing to work together to improve the food system for everyone.

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