Blockchain and the Future of Food Traceability
The most basic explanation of blockchain is that it’s a decentralized ledger of information and transactions.
Restaurant operators use transaction ledgers regularly, and know that one major downside is that the keeper of the ledger controls the information. With blockchain, there are many keepers of the same information, but unlike with the cloud where it’s all in one place, with blockchain everyone keeps a “node” that they update whenever a change is made in any other node on the chain.
“Instead of information being on one drive, it’s on 100 or 10,000 computers that all have to agree to have the most up-to-date information,” explains Patrick Schwerdtfeger, business futurist and author of tech book Anarchy, Inc. Schwerdtfeger has worked with tech giants like SAP, and keynoted events for the National Pork Producers Council and the Produce Marketing Association.
“Once something is on the blockchain, you can’t delete the prior record,” explains Schwerdtfeger. “It’s there forever.”
Hence, there is a chain of information that’s impossible to tamper with or remove links.
“Picture a supply chain: onion farmer, processing facility, trucking company, distributors, retailers,” continues Schwerdtfeger. “All parties would maintain a node on the blockchain. A QR code, or RFID tag, for a week’s load of onions gets scanned by the farm, scanned again whenever any of those onions leave or arrive at a new stop on the supply chain. Everyone approves at every step. At the end, you see everywhere the onions have been and what times.”
With Internet of Things-enabled sensor technology making its way to agriculture, soon sensors will auto-update the blockchain, not humans who might be late or forget to make an update.
Some industries have decided that blockchain is too difficult to profit from, since it’s a close cousin of open-source software. But, for food producers, the potential to improve traceability and reduce spoilage is absolutely worth the effort of creating blockchain solutions, even if radical transparency goes against the grain at first.