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In November I took the Amtrak up to New Bedford, Massachusetts to see IBM Food Trust in action. I haven’t been back to New England much since spending three years living in an old Connecticut port town as a child, and boy did New Bedford deliver on the nostalgia front. The town is picturesque New England personified: Cobble-stoned streets and historic homes set against the sea-scented backdrop of the country’s most valuable fishery.
New Bedford’s haul was valued at USD 319 million in 2017, thanks to its proximity to the North Atlantic Sea’s scallops, a favorite of fancy chefs. As we toured the Raw Seafoods processing plant, we ate them raw, plucked directly from the white canvas bags they are packed in offshore, and seared after being wrapped in bacon. It was a fun business trip.
New Bedford’s scallop fisheries, I learned, is also one of the most compelling examples of how enterprise blockchain is being put to work. A plate of properly prepared sea scallops in an upscale restaurant will set you back, a premium that also makes scallops susceptible to seafood fraud. To preserve the stock, scallop fisheries in particular need to be carefully maintained, with strict quotas for time-at-sea.
Usually sold by weight at auction, a sandy scallop fetches as much as a non-sandy one, making it hard for captains to charge a premium when their scallops are better. Food provenance, recorded on the blockchain through Food Trust, helps members of the scallop trade solve many of these problems.
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Throughout 2019, enterprise blockchain has cleared some notable milestones. Data from more than half of the world’s shipping cargo is now represented on TradeLens, the shipping solution that uses blockchain. Nearly 200 companies have joined the platform, bringing traceability and provenance to millions of different products.
In addition to scallops joining the blockchain, here are some of my other favorite blockchain stories from 2019 that you may have missed:
1. A blockchain pilot for prescription drugs
Prescription drug recalls are usually imprecise. It can be hard to identify exactly where in the process of creating the drug that something went wrong, meaning a large number of manufacturers are affected when a recall is necessary. Back in June, IBM announced a collaboration. Food and Drug Administration, KPMG, Merck and Walmart to see if a Food Trust-like traceability program could be adapted to suit the needs of major pharmaceutical manufacturers.
2. Cleaning up the electric car supply chain
Electric cars help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, but their batteries also require an incredible amount of cobalt, a common conflict mineral. In January, IBM announced a pilot in partnership with RCS Global, a responsible sourcing group, Ford, cathode maker LG Chem and China’s Huayou Cobalt to use blockchain to trace minerals like cobalt. The pilot was successful, and in November moved toward operationalization with a host of new members including Volvo Cars.
3. Customs authorities fighting corruption
A former consumer finance reporter, I love a good anti-corruption story, and customs agencies frequently began implementing blockchain into their processes to improve inspection efficiency. In August, Thailand’s customs agency began using TradeLens. Among other benefits, customs officials will receive automated alerts when shipping containers leave their ports, giving them more time to prepare. Officials hope this will help them crack down on fraud and forgery.
4. Easing the workload of French bureaucrats
Commercial court registries are maybe not the most exciting topic in the world, which is one of many reasons why it’s so great that blockchain is making the workload of France’s National Council of Clerks a little lighter. Starting in March, French clerks began using blockchain to maintain the legal status for French corporations across the country’s sub-regions and localities. Maintaining these local registries was often difficult without a shared version of the truth. In the pilot, the time it took to update the country’s local registries was reduced from several days to roughly one. It’s my favorite story to come out of France this year, except, perhaps, the many French blockchain implementations that will make your stomach rumble.
Having recently joined the blockchain world this year, I’m still getting caught up on many of the ways blockchain is being put to work by businesses around the world.
Are there any great blockchain stories from 2019 that you think I missed? I’d love to hear from you.
Happy New Year everyone and may your holiday season be full of good memories — and perhaps transparently-sourced treats.
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