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Nutrition: real-time traceability is now a thing

Yes, it is now real. The food industry has started working on traceability for perishable food using the blockchain.

This digital revolution is being triggered all over the world. There are many advantages to this all-new form of traceability: more reliable, very fast and shared recordings. Explanations by Marc Durand - Blockchain Project Director at Kapalt - helped clarify the situation during the workshop entitled “Food Traceability and the Blockchain”, held by AppliFarm on 15 November 2018 in Rennes.

The food industry is taking an interest in the blockchain

Pioneer food sectors are finally taking the leap! Making use of the blockchain technology opens up so many possibilities for improving traceability, and innovative companies are beginning to look into it seriously. Thanks to new digital processes, we are on the cusp of being provided with extremely reliable recordings regarding food products - from their source right through to the consumer, stopping off at every link in the food processing chain. The gathered information can be shared with all partners. Moreover, information regarding a specific product can be found at lightning speed - in the case where the distributor or customer asks for it, or if a problem is notified. Currently, workers needs 12 to 15 days to determine the source of a problem within the food chain; whereas here only a few minutes or even seconds will be required here, thanks to the Blockchain!

Secure transactions, shared within the blockchain 

As AppliFarm’s guest speaker, Marc Durand - the Director of Blockchain activity at Kapalt and former Blockchain leader at IBM - “explained the Blockchain’s principles”. He was able to captivate his audience, made up of managers and executives working in the agri-food sector in the West of France, during a workshop held on 15 November 2018. “The Blockchain is a digital platform enabling stakeholders within a same business sector to record transactional services in a reliable and secure manner, and to share the information without needing any trusted third parties or control organisations”. A real revolution...

Gone are the days of Excel files and scattered folders

The current traceability situation is a mixture of various specifications and recordings scattered between the food sector’s many stakeholders, all appearing in different forms - from bar codes to Excel tables. On the other hand we have the blockchain technology which evenly gathers all data in a digital format. This data has a history, is secure and can also be shared to all or some of the stakeholders. No need for trusted third parties any more. Gone are the days of multiple recordings corrected several times, leading to possible error sources (or falsifications). The amount of time saved is incredible, and the secured data means partners can be consolidated within the markets and when trading with end customers.

On the way to a shared platform

Despite the many striking benefits, taking the leap into this new way of working is hard. Partly because the Blockchain technology is still unknown to a majority of food sector directors. It is also a cultural obstacle. Whereas today workers organise their traceability data recordings internally, the blockchain only appears as a platform shared with others: suppliers, partners, customers, etc. The Blockchain forces the company to coordinate their work with others, for a more decentralised and shared vision of data. We are currently at the threshold of inter-organisational projects.

A Blockchain is an unforgeable register

The Blockchain can be explained as a register filled with data, structured into “chains of information blocks” and used to record the various transactions occurring in a peer-to-peer network. Each stakeholder is a “knot” within the shared network. There are public blockchains, open to all. And there are private blockchains, used in a B to B context. It is within this specific framework that food traceability blockchains were developed.

Blockchain traceability: how does it work?

The blockchain is therefore a database “distributed” between several stakeholders. This means they all have permanent and fully transparent access to all recorded data - i.e. all copies of the transaction. This data has a recorded history and is secured - and is therefore unforgeable. Why? Because the transactions are assembled by “blocks” (hence the name), approved by all stakeholders, encrypted and shared by all. Falsified data can in no way be recorded. All the data would need to be modified to make checks impossible, yet they all have a history that cannot be modified!

Virtuoso food traceability

Walmart seized the opportunity to use the blockchain technology, to quickly get to the source of a problem concerning a food item. For something that used to take two weeks, now only a few minutes are required to find exactly where in the food chain the problem arose - with which stakeholder and at what stage of the manufacturing process. So much time saved! Targeting is much more accurate and restrained regarding distributed products that need to be called back by shops...After testing the Blockchain in the sector of pork traceability in China, and mangoes in Mexico, Walmart decided to expand the scope of food items included. The company is taking giant steps in the matter, and is now collaborating with other major groups: Nestlé, Unilever, etc. Closer to home, in France, Carrefour shops made a name for themselves by using the Blockchain to trace chickens produced and transformed internally. More recently, Carrefour made a bold move by joining IBM’s blockchain platform named Trust Food, also used by Walmart...

Applifarm: “traceability in the livestock farming world”

The blockchain is no magical tool, reminds Marc Durand, but is a technology and an approach that meets trade-specific needs. AppliFarm, a young French start-up from Rennes, has understood this point perfectly. The company works alongside upstream and downstream stakeholders in the livestock farming sector, and has just developed tools and a traceability platform for the agri-food business. This permanent and secure monitoring system, using the blockchain, is now operational and will no doubt delight many stakeholders in the livestock farming and transformation sector.