Food Supply Chain

Taste the future with a blockchain meal

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Preparing dinner for our loved ones is more than serving a tasty meal. Like many consumers, I want to know what goes into my body and those of my family and friends. I want to be confident that the fish I purchase is exactly what I think it is — not a substitute of lower economic value. Are the leafy greens and glistening red strawberries truly organic and grown without pesticides? Can I trust that the goods in my basket are sustainably grown and not detrimental to our planet or to the people producing them? The expectation is that food companies should provide us with honest, straightforward immediate answers to these questions. But the reality demonstrates that there is still work to be done to achieve this vision. Blockchain can help.

Our food system today lacks transparency and trust. Regulations operate on rudimentary standards that state food companies follow the “one up, one down” policy, which identifies where they received products from and to whom they sold it. Current processes consequently do not provide the complete end-to-end food supply chain transparency and assurance that many consumers demand.

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Unfortunately, the lack of trust that exists today causes many friction points in our food safety system. Mislabeled food poses food safety concerns and costs consumers extra. For instance, mislabeled fish is more likely to include toxins, increased levels of antibiotics and environmental chemicals such as mercury. Millions of us are also duped into buying pricier products that do not meet federal organic standards. Moreover, when there is a food contamination incident it can take weeks or months to isolate the issue (sometimes never) due to the labor-intensive process of putting together our food system jigsaw puzzle. Not destroying or recalling the impacted product in a timely fashion has consequences. This has both social and business costs: One in six Americans get sick each year from contaminated food and foodborne illnesses cost the US more than $15.6B annually.

It sounds gloomy, doesn’t it? This is why having eaten, what I believe to be, the world’s first meal traced entirely from farm to fork on the blockchain is so exciting and causes me to have hope. On July 18, 2018, with ingredients captured on an in-production blockchain, chef Aarón Sánchez designed and prepared a three-course dinner. This meal represented a significant shift in our food supply system and shows what is possible in a new era of trust and transparency. Blockchain technology can enable the accurate and complete story of our food to be digitized across different transaction partners — such as those between producers, suppliers and retailers. Food industry leaders and innovators are working with IBM to ensure food supply chain participant see value — from small-business farmers to large enterprises — and to us, the consumers. With every bite, I trust the details of where and how the ingredients came together, and I know that those details cannot be compromised once entered in the blockchain.

This is not a proof of concept, and not a one-off meal. Dozens of food items are now on the blockchain, representing hundreds of thousands of transactions. There’s no hype; it’s real. These food items are on retailers’ shelves, and significantly more are expected over the next few months. Consumers can now have visibility into what goes into their grocery bags. Blockchain helps ensure trust behind each label. Millions of people will soon be able to create their own three-course blockchain meals that they can confidently trust to serve their family.

The journey to this table began years ago and enjoying this blockchain meal signifies the ability for all of us to now know everything about our food. It is our new standard, underscored by trust, and we are excited about the next delicious chapter in our journey.

Connect with me @analyticsbytes on Twitter to continue the discussion.

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IBM Food Trust Global Marketing Leader - IBM Blockchain

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