Waltonchain has just announced their new initiative called WTC-Food. The goal of the system is to provide origin and destination tracking for food products. In an explainer video released by the group, the platform is especially targeted at countries like China that lack robust food tracking systems.
The Problem with Food
As a developing country with more than 1 billion mouths to feed, China has a serious problem on its hands. Specifically, the country has been rocked by food scandal after food scandal, the likes of which would leave the average persons stomach churning in disgust.
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How bad are they? Here’s a few.
A number of meat sellers were caught substituting mutton for rat meat. Fakes of well-known seasoning brands were discovered on grocery store shelves that contained hazardous industrial chemicals that can cause cancer and other serious and immediate health effects.
And of course, there was the infamous melamine scandal where a major dairy company added the industrial chemical known as melamine in order to give it the appearance of a higher protein content. The fallout of that particular scandal is still being felt today, with most parents refusing to buy domestic dairy products of any kind for fear that they will once again contain industrial chemicals. This has led to worldwide infant formula shortages due to gray market exporting and hoarding.
The Untraceable Apple
If someone buys an apple off the grocery store shelf in the United States, there’s usually enough information available so that the apple can be tracked all the way back to the farm it was picked from. This is important because if something were to be wrong with that apple and a recall needed to be issued, then this information will allow authorities to act in a much faster and more effective manner.
In China, however, a system like this simply does not exist. Food seems to be collected a farm, and then shuffled through a mysterious process where it changes hands dozens or more times and then appears on a store shelf somewhere else with no clear indication of how it got there.
Not only is this an issue for normal concerns like E. coli outbreaks, but China has a long history of intentional food tampering and counterfeiting for profit as was seen in the melamine scandal.
WTC-Food a Solution?
The idea posed by Waltonchain, a China-based project, is to use the Waltonchain blockchain to create a system where food can be tracked from its source to its final destination with checks made at each stop.
If WTC-Food works as advertised, it could prove to be a revolution in food safety not only for China, but for anywhere in the world where ensuring food safety is less than easy. Even if a single apple makes 15 stops between the farm and the grocery store, and is bought, sold, and traded just as many times, hypothetically a blockchain-based tracking system could still follow it.
A system like this could also enforce compliance. This is because if you are a middleman in the food chain, you would not want to buy food from another middleman that did not participate in the blockchain. Doing so would cause a gap to appear in the food tracking history. This gap could prove to be unacceptable once more major retailers are in on the program.
A simple automated system could check to see if a particular food product has an unbroken supply chain or not, and they could choose to reject items which do not have a clear history. This, in turn, would cost money for the middlemen that chose not to participate.
Questions and Concerns That Need Answers
While in theory the WTC-Food program sounds like it could change a lot of lives for the better, there are still a few things we don’t know about it just yet.
Generally speaking, Chinese law states that information systems must be subject to government monitoring and censorship. For example, each email provider in China must be registered and provide a backdoor for authorities to get full access to any data they want at any time. With this in mind, we don’t know if the government will ask for similar access to the data, or if they will have some ability to alter or censor records.
This is all unexplored territory, but what if an outbreak of a minor illness appears in the food chain and the government wants to keep it under wraps? Will they step in and alter records so as not to cause a public outcry? And from a technological perspective, will the Waltonchain blockchain allow for such modifications to be made, or is its blockchain completely immutable? And if it is immutable, how can it comply with censorship laws?
Our fingers are crossed in hopes that the government would see the benefits of securing its food supply system instead of trying to put social order in a position above food safety.
Featured Image: The Late Mercutio