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IBM and Walmart Launch Blockchain-Based Food Safety Alliance for China

One year ago, Bitcoin Magazine reported that Walmart was testing the use of distributed ledger technology (DLT) for supply chain management in the food industry, with the goal of tracking and tracing pork in China and produce in the U.S. — two high-volume product categories within the world’s largest markets.

The final project, a collaboration between Walmart, Tsinghua University in Beijing and IBM, investigated the use of DLT to generate transparency and efficiency in supply chain record keeping, thus helping enhance the safety of food and piloting the use of blockchain technology to trace food items, including pork in China and mangoes in the U.S., as it moved through the supply chain to store shelves. Recent testing by Walmart showed that applying DLT reduced the time it took to trace a package of mangoes from the farm to the store from days or weeks to two seconds.

In August, IBM and Walmart launched a partnership with a global food industry consortium, including Nestlé and Unilever, to identify new areas where the global supply chain can benefit from the use of blockchains. The IBM Blockchain Platform, available via the IBM Cloud, is expected to play a major role in the project. 

Last week, IBM announced the launch of the Blockchain Food Safety Alliance, formed in conjunction with Walmart, the Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies and Chinese e-retailer (which is both the largest e-commerce company in China and the country’s largest retailer by revenue). The alliance will collaborate to enhance food tracking, traceability and safety in China, achieving greater transparency across the food supply chain.

“Blockchain [technology] 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 for IBM Industry Platforms, in the announcement. “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, the technology brings traceability and transparency to a broader network of food supply chain participants.”

The four partners in the Blockchain Food Safety Alliance will work with food providers and regulators to develop the standards and solutions for food safety in China. IBM will provide its IBM Blockchain Platform and expertise, and Tsinghua University will act as a technical advisor. IBM and Tsinghua will collaborate with Walmart and to develop, optimize and deploy DLT solutions for supply chain management and safety in the food industry.

“As a global advocate for enhanced food safety, Walmart looks forward to deepening our work with IBM, Tsinghua University, JD and others throughout the food supply chain,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety and health at Walmart. “Through collaboration, standardization, and adoption of new and innovative technologies, we can effectively improve traceability and transparency and help ensure the global food system remains safe for all.”

New suppliers and retailers are expected to join the alliance to share information and choose DLT solutions suitable for their and compatible with their legacy systems. It is also expected that the insights gained from the work in China could be used to develop DLT solutions for traceability in the food industry worldwide.

“Tsinghua University is committed to in-depth research into food safety — one of the most important areas for improving quality of life in China and also around the world,” said Professor Yueting Chai from the National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies at Tsinghua University. “We have already been working with IBM and Walmart to create a new model for food traceability, using blockchain [technology] to support supply chain transparency and auditability, and we see this new cooperation as an important next step in this endeavor.” 

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