Blockchain Joins Efforts to Improve Food Traceability amid Rising Waste and Safety Fears

August 2, 2016 17:00 UTC

Blockchain technology has emerged as a tool for addressing an important global issue: the growing complexity of the food supply chain and the increasing amount of wasted food, according to a senior research fellow at the University of Surrey.

Writing in The Conversation, an online source of information from the academic and research community, senior research fellow, Phil Godsiff said that a recent analysis suggested that half of U.S. food production is wasted, with global estimates above 30 percent.

The growing use of sensors in the food supply chain, paired with blockchain technology, could reduce food waste and make food data more transparent through the supply chain.

Food Supply Chain in Crisis

Retailers want perfect produce, leading to waste throughout the food supply chain. They also seek low prices, which has resulted in the industrialization of food production processes.

The increase in foodborne illnesses has caused many consumers to have less trust in their food, creating a demand for more information on food production practices.

Blockchain technology could be used to allow a company like Subway, which has pledged to remove antibiotics and preservatives from its ingredients, to make product origin and contents visible to anyone.

Technology Startups Tab Blockchain

Technology startups are exploring the possibility of deploying blockchains in agriculture.

Provenance, a U.K. software startup, uses blockchain technology to establish the authenticity of food. Provenance is testing the technology to authenticate tuna caught in Indonesia delivered to Japanese restaurants. Provenance takes information from sensors or RFID tags and records it on the blockchain to track the fish from “hook to fork.”

Innovators are also researching ways to tag an animal and record its DNA on a blockchain. The information becomes accessible to customers via mobile phones and apps.

FarmShare is using blockchain technology to advance community-supported agriculture, where people use a local currency to purchase locally produced food.

Filament, a firm that makes a wireless sensor, is developing sensors to monitor crop health and record the data on a blockchain. The blockchain makes it easier to trace damaged crops by linking sensor records to other equipment, such as transportation and storage coolers.

Skuchain is developing RFID tags and barcodes to be used in conjunction with blockchain technology to protect against the counterfeiting of products.

BlockCrushr Labs, a Canadian startup, is using blockchain technology to increase donations to homeless people and ensure the donations are spent responsibly.

Also read: How blockchain technology can benefit many industries beyond finance

Blockchain Limitations Noted

Blockchain technology has its limitations, the article noted. The main one being the need to ensure a tight coupling between the product and its digital representation, and the need to have a certification system to verify compliance with stated goals.

Blockchains can only be part of a wider solution, the article noted, and therefore remain limited to niche markets where establishing provenance has greater importance.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Last modified: August 2, 2016 17:07 UTC

Lester Coleman is a media relations consultant for the payments and automated retailing industries.