FAB Use Cases: Food

In this series, we tackle different potential use cases of Fast Access Blockchain and how we can build a better world through our solutions.

New Applications, New Business Models, New Possibilities

Applications which are an ideal fit for blockchain technology have the following characteristics:

  • Involve multiple organizations
  • Where trust is key, or trust is presently severely eroded
  • Proof is key
  • Involve exchange/transfer of assets or value
  • Involve data sharing or presently suffers from silo’d data
  • Benefit from micro transactions/streaming
  • Have opportunities for new business models, products or services

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The safety, origin and quality of our food is increasingly of concern today. The food industry today is controlled by a few multinational corporations that have radically shifted the focus of food production. Quicker shipping and better technology has created increased competition and the food industry has reacted by introducing more factory-style processes and the general preference for profitability over quality.

The strong desire to lower production costs and lower standards has become the norm across all aspects of food production–from waste management to the quality of animal feed, to the technical training that farm and food workers receive.

The main dangers affecting the industry are food borne illnesses and contaminants, pesticide overexposure, antibiotic resistance and environmental concerns.

Blockchain can provide consumers with many workable applications to protect what they eat. Imagine if food packages could be labelled with a QR code containing the product name/identification, supplier, lot number, manufacture/packaging date, best before date, certifications (eg. organic, halal, kosher, fair-trade, GMO free, etc.) and the supplier’s cryptographic hash signature of this data. By scanning the QR code with their smartphone, and looking up the data on a public food traceability blockchain, consumers can verify that the package in their hand did indeed come from the indicated supplier.

Complete traceability information from farm to processor, inspector, distributor to retailer is also recorded on the blockchain. Each organization in the supply chain takes the hash signature(s) of their input supplier(s) record(s), adds relevant details to the food traceability record, and signs the record and stores it on the blockchain. The relevant supplier can also add the signature hash of applicable 3rd party certification records for organic, GMO free etc.

This provides consumers with not only complete visibility of the food supply chain, but a high degree of assurance of safety and quality that they can independently verify thanks to the chain of trust recorded on the blockchain.

This is only the beginning. One can imagine an app on your smartphone using the same QR code to look up the ingredients and nutrition facts of the product, and analyzing it against your known allergies, dietary regimen, and purchasing preferences and then advising you whether the product meets the criteria that you have specified. The app can also verify that the ingredients and nutrition facts information have been independently verified by the relevant regulatory/inspection agency using the public blockchain data. Perhaps upon checkout, the app can even electronically scan or receive the sales receipt and advise you whether or not you have the appropriate balance of nutritional content in terms of carbohydrates, fiber, fat, sugar etc, in all the food that you have purchased in the last 30 days.

This type of framework can also help nutritionists and personal trainers to be more hands-on with their clients. Further, food brand ratings and reviews could work in much the same way, with the overall rating of a certain producers product showed when the QR code is scanned.

Suppliers and retailers will also see massive benefits through blockchain implementation. Food fraud is a major international problem. Restaurants and large retailers are frequently sold mislabeled products which is then passed onto the customer. A 2013 report from Guelph University in Guelph, Ontario, Canada found that near 1/3 of fish sold in the market was mislabeled.

Currently, compliance data is stored through third parties and centralized databases, which are sources of information errors, hacks, and fraudulent errors borne out of bribery. Since blockchain based systems work independently, actors putting in false information within the network would be identified quickly. This ability to point out false information would need to be implemented for the complete supply chain process. Retailers would be able to finally have a way to verify the authenticity of the food product.

Suppliers and retailers can also use this information to quickly trace and recall product to protect consumer safety. Product trace-backs in large retailers generally take days, something a blockchain system can do in mere seconds. This is why large retailers like Walmart, Unilever and Nestle have all looked into pilot projects. Specific products can be traced and removed, while safe foods would remain on the shelves and not be sent to landfills, reducing food waste and saving money.

For the food producers, the ability to be paid quickly and efficiently through the use of smart contracts is a major benefit. Currently, the payment process can be quite lengthy for farmers and fisherman as the market data is not always readily available, and there are frequent disputes over the production amounts. On top of this, there are many middlemen from farm to plate that can be eliminated and increase supply efficiency.

Written By: Ken Tang and Eugene Cofie

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