IBM, Walmart & JD use blockchain to target food safety in China

Food blockchain start-up adds Peter Gabriel to backers
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The blockchain behemoth shows no signs of slowing down with news of a new industry collaboration to use the disruptive tech to safeguard food in China.

Not content with its earlier blockchain announcement, computer giant IBM has joined forces with Walmart, JD.com and Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies in a Blockchain Food Safety Alliance.

The consortium will kick off with a collaboration designed to enhance food tracking, traceability and safety in China, to achieve greater transparency across the food supply chain.

The four companies will work together to create a standards-based method of collecting data about the origin, safety and authenticity of food, using blockchain technology to provide real-time traceability throughout the supply chain.

This will encourage accountability and give suppliers, regulators and consumers greater insight and transparency into how food is handled, from the farm to consumers. This has traditionally been challenging due to complex and fragmented data sharing systems that are often paper-based and can be error-prone.

The consortium will work with food supply chain providers and regulators to develop the standards, solutions and partnerships to enable a broad-based food safety ecosystem in China.

IBM, Walmart and Tsinghua University have piloted the use of blockchain to trace food items, including pork in China and mangoes in the US, as they move through the supply chain to store shelves.

Recent testing by Walmart showed that applying blockchain reduced the time it took to trace a package of mangoes from the farm to the store from days or weeks to two seconds.

“Blockchain holds incredible promise in delivering the transparency that is needed to help promote food safety across the whole supply chain,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Industry Platforms.

“This is a fundamental reason why IBM believes so strongly in the impact this technology will have on business models.

“By expanding our food safety work with Walmart and Tsinghua University in China and adding new collaborators like JD.com, the technology brings traceability and transparency to a broader network of food supply chain participants.”

The collaboration is designed to help ensure brand owners’ data privacy while helping them integrate their online and offline traceability for food safety and quality management channels.

Companies that join the alliance will be able to share information using blockchain technology, and plans include them being able to choose the standards-based traceability solution that best suits their needs and legacy systems.

This will in turn bring greater transparency to the supply chain and introduce new technologies to the retail sector designed to create a safer food environment and enhance the consumer experience.

The insights gained from the work in China will shed light on how blockchain technology can help improve processes such as recalls and verifications and enhance consumer confidence due to greater transparency in China and around the world.