Blockchain and Food: an Opportunity?

Among different fields of application, blockchain can contribute to improve the food sector substantially. Blockchain technology can help consumers’ health safety (e.g. in the case of E. coli or Salmonella) and financial stability of food companies that suffer from product mislabeling.

According to this vision, food safety is not just a food issue but it is also a supply chain issue. In Europe, where a strict regulation in farming and food processing practices has been implemented, blockchain is surely one of the most promising attempt to increase food safety, not only to fresh product but also into processed food. This issue is particularly true in the United States, where more than 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses each year, according to CDC.

It is clear that consumers are looking for ways to prove the authenticity of food more and more. Especially when it comes to food. Since data can be made visible to all participants and in general cannot be altered by a single entity, customers can have confidence that data has not been tampered with along the way. Companies are following this path: for example, food production giant Bühler announced new technologies promising to increase food safety standards and production efficiency: Laatu is a breakthrough technology to reduce microbial contamination in dry goods, and Tubex Pro, a smart, self-optimizing scale system. These solutions are connected to the Bühler Insights IoT platform to ensure a new degree of traceability and transparency along the food value chain.

After product provenance and traceability, blockchain will streamline supply chain operation. Nowadays, it is difficult to achieve an integration of data documentation because a large part of operations is manual. Instead of the gloom caused by a chain of bilateral interactions, there would be multi-party access to data and documentation, allowing for increased efficiency. In Italy, for example, a team lead by Professor Stefano Bistarelli from the University of Perugia is working on Agrichain, a platform that aims to make stakeholders in the agricultural industry better-informed, to eliminate unnecessary paperwork and dockets and reduce supply chain inefficiency to help consumers’ health and to prevent fraud. Another pilot program is the partnership signed by Nestlé, Carrefour and IBM to track instant mashed potatoes. Seeing how effective IBM’s Food Trust blockchain platform is, the partnership aims to help the movement of food shipments across Europe: on the one hand, consumers can track the information related to a national brand, on the other side, companies can reduce food waste optimizing food supply chain.

Finally, this approach could lead to reveal corruption more easily. Thanks to this higher level of accountability, players that behave opportunistically and unethically are in a more difficult situation. The World Food Programme has already begun experimentation with this use case in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Under the Building Blocks pilot project, 10,000 individuals receive food from entitlements recorded on a blockchain-based computing platform. According to World Economic Forum, “blockchain could increase transparency and trust in humanitarian supply chains as well, where financial aid could not reach or was perceived to be unable to reach target beneficiaries”.