Your Food - On The Blockchain

As we have discussed in the past two editions of Society Marbella, Blockchain technology goes way beyond Bitcoin... 

Today’s subject is why I personally care about Blockchain and why I feel strongly about getting the info out there, because it could positively affect you, me and everyone around us.

I find it crazy in this day and age that all we need to survive and thrive is grown naturally, yet there are food shortages in some places and obscene food waste in other places. Something has to change now.

Whether you’re a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan, the food supply chain affects the quality of food that ends up on your plate and it affects your environment. 

In the past 50 years, the South of Spain has become a major horticultural supplier within Europe. 40% of all the vegetables consumed in Europe come from Spain, purchased by huge distribution chains like Aldi, Carrefour, and Tesco. These retailers demand high production quality standards in every area. Producing safe, ethical and sustainable food (and then proving those claims) are some of the main challenges for farmers right now.

Small and medium sized family farms in Malaga particularly are seeing a negative impact of agri-food globalization, with 43% of them shutting down over the past decade, unable to keep up with the costly requirements and high demand. The mere presence of big retailers in the supply chain increases pressure on all other members to guarantee food safety.

Food safety is considered a public good, because even a small error could cause severe harm to all participants in the supply chain (i.e., companies and consumers), significantly affecting public health. 

A new level of transparency is needed to guarantee the safety of the products people consume and more can be done to equip companies with real-time traceability of products within national or global supply chains. 

This is where Blockchain is stepping into the spotlight and already being used in other parts of the world to improve the food supply chain for certain products. For instance, Walmart in the US, is now insisting all its leafy green salad suppliers are signed up to its Blockchain application so it can provide end-to-end traceability in seconds, rather than days. 

When Spain adopts Blockchain into the food supply chain, it will eliminate damaging false accusations such as the time when mass media spread false news about an E-coli outbreak in Spanish cucumbers, putting an unnecessary negative image over Spain’s produce. Blockchain would make information transparent and accessible quickly, so these accusations could be proved wrong instantly.

Since the Blockchain can safely store all kinds of information and digital files, it could also make short supply chains a more viable option for small and medium sized farms like the ones we have lost in Malaga. It’s currently not easy to create synergy with suppliers whilst keeping up with the flexibility and expectations of producing for short food supply chains. Food safety measures also differ according to where they are sold, but with Blockchain it would make it easier and cheaper for even small family farms to prove that their produce is safe, ethical and sustainable. Not to mention it would greatly assist their reputation and authenticity for sales and marketing. This would then have a positive ripple effect on retailers and other parties in the supply chain, since they could also verify the quality and authenticity.

Big retailers have always sought to identify (and even control) where, how, and by whom the fresh products they purchase are produced, now smaller retailers and even restaurants could do the same. 

Say you own a restaurant that specializes in serving top quality fresh seafood. Blockchain would give you the verification that not only is the fish as fresh as claimed, but that it’s been stored and transported correctly. You can see its temperature history and details of the original catch. 

Or if you own a shop that sells ethically sourced or organic-only products, you would have access to a wider selection of producers on the Blockchain and be able to verify the authenticity of their claims as easily as browsing Amazon and checking customer feedback.

Even if you don’t own a business, imagine buying a chicken for your Sunday roast dinner and you could simply scan the code with your smartphone to see exactly where it came from, whether it really is organic free-range, how many stops it made to get to you, and other details about the bird’s history.

If you want to know how long that bag of apples has been sitting there or how long ago your carrots were harvested, scan the code and the technology would tell you. This is where Blockchain would not only make the food supply chain transparent, it would also eliminate unnecessary waste and enable better resource management. No one should be going hungry while there is so much food waste.

Every year, a whopping 1/3 of all fresh produce is thrown away into the bin globally. IBM Food Trust is focused on addressing the food waste challenges using Blockchain to highlight where and why the waste is occurring. This will give businesses insights into the food supply chain that they have never had before. Retailers will have full visibility to judge the peak freshness of the products they purchase, so they can give their customers fresher food with a longer shelf life and reduce waste of spoiled fruit & veg.

 Instead of people going hungry and food being wasted, produce will be bought and sold at the right time, with any excess already certified as safe and ethical to be donated to those who need it, instead of going in the trash. Smaller family farms can start to thrive with an easier way to authenticate and sell their produce. We finally get to see where our food comes from and make more informed choices. 

Whether we buy from large supermarkets or small greengrocers Blockchain could be helping towards a transparent food supply chain that could benefit generations to come.

There need not be any waste, there need not be any hunger, and we should be able to fully trust the food that we buy and eat. I look forward to more people and businesses being inspired by Blockchain so we can soon see the technology widely adopted into the food supply chains here in Spain.

By Eva George

Marbella based writer and certified Blockchain consultant. 

Constanza Martinez