With 5 people dead and almost 200 sickened by the E. Coli-contaminated lettuce sold across the US in late March of this year, retail giant Walmart is turning to blockchain technology to track it's produce from more than 100 farms. Due to a poor existing supply tracking infrastructure, they were unable to quickly and effectively track where the affected lettuce was coming from. This caused a much more widespread outbreak of the virus and forced Walmart to destroy it's entire stock of Romaine lettuce, some of which may have been spared if the source was more easily traced.
After a 2-year pilot program, Walmart has teamed with IBM to utilize blockchain technology to track the food supplied by over 100 farms. By next year, these farms will be required to enter detailed information about the food they supply into a blockchain database developed by IBM. Dubbed the IBM Food Trust, this system has been developed not just for Walmart but also companies such as Dole, Wegmans, and Unilever to assist in tracking food products in every step of the supply chain. With proper tracking every step of the way, the IBM Food Trust promises to deliver a system that not only boosts customers trust in the freshness of the food they are buying, but can also save companies from massive losses in the event of food contamination. Instantly knowing which food is safe and which is infected means grocers may not have to destroy their entire stock, potentially saving millions of dollars.
In each stop a product makes in the supply chain from grower to grocer, the handler will make a detailed entry into the blockchain database. Signing both when they receive the product and when they pass it to the next stage of the supply chain means products will be tracked every single step of the way with no chance of dilution or steps “falling through the cracks”, as happens often with current supply chain management techniques. It is clear that there are still many difficulties when tracking a foods journey, especially when crossing international borders. This is cause for concern not just for companies involved in the process, but consumers as well.
In an experiment, Walmart employees set about finding the origin of some specific sliced mangoes. With the current method of supply chain tracking, it took them over 7 days to track the fruit to its origin at a small farm in Mexico...time that cannot be afforded in the event of contamination. With the IBM Food Trust platform, this same task would take mere seconds and could save lives and massive product loss. Though some are calling Walmart's embrace of the technology a “PR stunt”, the transparency and numerous other benefits offered by blockchain should increase consumers faith in the freshness of the food they are buying.
Though it has impacted a variety of industries ranging from entertainment to renewable energy, this is the first time blockchain technology has been used at such a massive scale. IBM has certainly positioned itself as a leader in the field, holding all sorts of patents for blockchain use. Through their efforts, they are making large strides in bringing this technology to large-scale industrial corporations, generating interest and furthering the development of these platforms.
The industries that are adopting blockchain technology are seeing many benefits in the form of both reliability and cost efficiency. Some organizations are even using the technology to self-fund rewards programs for employees or generate additional funds for using less energy (and selling the excess). This is all taking place in companies worldwide, and would no be possible with existing antiquated technologies.
Walmart embracing the IBM Food Trust shows that blockchain technology can and will function with or without a publicly traded cryptocurrency, because it offers a superior solution to many pre-existing infrastructures. The more industries embracing the technology, the stronger it becomes and soon industries around the world will reap the benefits of decentralized blockchain platforms. IBM is offering a real global use-case that will not only revolutionize an industry but will impact peoples daily lives, for the better. Food is on the blockchain, and we're all the better for it.