IBM open-source food-safety blockchain system launched

2nd February 2018 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Computing multinational IBM in December launched an open-source blockchain system designed to provide transparency on food safety in China. The Blockchain Food Safety Alliance has as its initial signatories US mass retailer Walmart and Chinese ecommerce firm JD.com, as well as IBM and the Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory, in China.

The alliance is a collaboration designed to enhance food tracking, traceability and safety in China, says IBM Industry Platforms senior VP Bridget van Kralingen.

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.

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

This will encourage accountability and provide greater insight and transparency for suppliers, regulators and consumers on food production and handling.

“IBM will provide its IBM Blockchain platform and expertise, while Tsinghua University will act as a technical adviser, sharing its expertise in key technologies and the China food safety ecosystem. “IBM and Tsinghua will collaborate with Walmart and JD to develop, optimise and roll out the technology to suppliers and retailers that join the alliance,” says Van Kralingen.

Walmart, JD, IBM and Tsinghua University will work with food supply chain providers and regulators to develop the standards, solutions and partnerships to allow for a broad-based food safety ecosystem in China, she adds.

“Transparency on how food is handled from the farm to consumers has been challenging, owing to complex and fragmented data-sharing systems. “Blockchain holds promise in delivering the transparency that is needed to help promote food safety across the whole supply chain.”

Throughout the world, particularly in China, consumers increasingly want to know how their food is sourced, and JD is dedicated to using technology to promote complete transparency, emphasises supply chain research unit JD-Y president Yongli Yu.

Walmart and JD have been able to leverage JD’s expertise in the application of artificial intelligence, blockchain, Big Data and other new technologies to protect consumers, Walmart food safety and health VP Frank Yiannas adds.

In-Depth Research

“Tsinghua University is committed to in-depth research into food safety – one of the most important areas for improving the quality of life in China and worldwide. “We have been working with IBM and Walmart to create a new model for food traceability using blockchain to support supply chain transparency and auditability,” says Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies’ Professor Yueting Chai.

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 being able to choose the standards-based traceability solution that best suits their needs and legacy systems. This will, in turn, make the supply chain more transparent and introduce new technologies into the retail sector, creating a safer food environment and enhancing 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, concludes Van Kralingen.