IBM has been at the heart of commercial blockchain development. This week they announced that they would be launching a new platform, called the ‘IBM Food Trust’. The company has also been working with Walmart for a proprietary food tracking platform that is blockchain-based. The global food distribution system is massive, which means that this new product from Big Blue could be a major money maker.
Supermarket heavyweight Carrefour is apparently already in on the action. The announcement from of the Food Trust detailed that Carrefour would be one of its first big clients. Other businesses can buy a subscription to use the Food Trust, and depending on their size, prices range from $100 to $10,000 USD per month.
There is some question about how mandatory participation will be in these new food tracking systems. A few weeks ago Walmart announced that they would require some of their suppliers to use a blockchain tracking system next year. To start, only leafy green vegetable suppliers will be forced to jump on the blockchain. More suppliers could then be required to participate, or risk losing Walmart as a client.
IBM Leads the Way to Safer Food
Whatever timeline food suppliers and handlers are given to revamp their record-keeping systems, forcing the adoption of blockchain in food tracking is probably a wise idea. Carrefour is planning to have all its own branded products on the IBM Food Trust’s blockchain by 2022. They will begin by testing the platform in France, Spain and Brazil, before putting the platform into a more important role.
Emmanuel Delerm, who is the blockchain director at Carrefourm commented to CoinDesk after their participation was made public, “For us, it’s a matter of sense for the consumer,” and went on to say that,“It’s really this that will push us to say to our producers or partners or suppliers, will they come on the platform? It’s really consumer-orientated; it’s really for them that we are doing this.”
A Much Better System
It is almost certain that a blockchain-based food tracking platform will outperform the existing system which is both slow and lacks any sort of central register. IBM’s vice president of blockchain solutions, Ramesh Gopinath, explained to CoinDesk that, “IBM Food Trust is the first production blockchain at real scale and we are super-excited to finally be making the product available broadly.”
The IBM Food Trust seems to embody many of the advantages that blockchain is capable of delivering. According to Ramesh Gopinath the new platform can trace contamination back to the source in seconds, but it can also find other products that could have been affected by the contaminated items.
Instead of having to do tedious investigation that would take days or weeks, tracking down potentially deadly food can be done in less than a minute. Mr. Gopinath said that this platform, “…obviously requires the growers, the suppliers, and the retailers all to be part of the solution, sending in information in a trusted and permissioned fashion and we link it all together.”
The Food Industry Seems to Like Blockchain
Carrefour is one of many food distribution companies that are joining the IBM Food Trust. Topco Associates is also on the Food Trust team, and they represent 15,000 stores. Beefchain, Dennick Fruit Source, Wakefern and Smithfield are also getting in, probably because it is only a matter of when this kind of system becomes a requirement for food suppliers.
Frank Yiannas is Walmart’s vice president of food safety, and he put the goal of Walmart’s blockchain food tracking collaboration with IBM in these terms, “What we’re trying to do is create the equivalence of FedEx tracking for food; that at each point in the farm-to-food continuum when there’s a traceability event that occurs, a pass off, the information about that product is recorded in the blockchain network.”
Now it looks like just about any company can jump into the IBM Food Trust. If anyone doubted that blockchain would be making some big changes happen quickly, those ideas can be put to rest. Better questions might be: which blockchain platform will become an industry standard, and when will adoption become mandatory?