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IBM Targets 2017 Beta for Food Safety Blockchain Project

As the Research Partner of Distributed: Trade, Chain Business Insights is providing this early access into its exclusive research on blockchains’ role in supply chain applications. At Distributed: Trade, we will present highlights from our research and lead a panel of blockchain innovators to offer a technology response to business issues.

IBM is working toward the beta launch of a food-provenance service based on blockchain technology. An outline of its planned offering, which has yet to be formally launched, has emerged recently as a result of presentations by company executives at supply chain industry events.

Dubbed simply “Food Safety Solution,” the service, which should be available in beta at the end of this year, is targeting a wide range of entities that make up the food supply chain ecosystem, including growers, food processors and distributors, as well as logistics providers and retailers.

Within the food supply chain, the issue of food safety is a challenging one, impacted by an industry modus operandi that is based on manual processes, paper records, limited sharing of information and a lack of trust between participants that drives numerous costly audit processes.

With its service, IBM is actually looking to address a range of issues that impact the food supply chain in different ways, including:

  • Traceability back to the grower/food producer, which is especially important when foodborne illnesses occur. Such incidents need to be dealt with quickly in order to minimize broader supply chain impacts.
  • Improving food freshness and reducing food waste, the former being demanded increasingly by consumers, and the latter an imperative given global population growth.
  • Transparency of food through a supply chain as consumers become increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how it has been produced and processed, with an eye on sustainability, organic production and reducing the use of slave labor.
  • Reducing food fraud and complying with increasing record-keeping and authenticity regulations, which significantly add to costs for those transporting food through its supply chain.

IBM’s planned service would be based on its blockchain platform, which leverages the open-source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain engineered for performance and security. Running on its Bluemix cloud service, the food safety offering would be provided on a software-as-a-service basis, with some services free to use and others requiring monthly subscriptions and per-use payments. Overall, the delivery and pricing model are designed to make the service available to smaller players, such as local farms and specialist processing companies.

IBM expects for participants to interact with its service via applications running on mobile devices as well as through integration with existing systems via application programming interfaces. The information captured could include trade documents, certificates of authentication, and inspection and ownership records that combine to provide an end-to-end provenance for food.

Beyond providing an immutable record of food supply chain documentation, the service can also improve communications between participants, manage product recalls and provide alerts when products might be nearing expiration dates.

Big Blue’s focus on food supply chains likely draws on proof-of-concept and pilot projects that it has been undertaking in recent months with retailer Walmart. For those trials, the companies have partnered to track the supply chain of pork in China and mangoes in the U.S. At a recent investor event, Walmart noted that its use of blockchain technology has shortened the time it takes to trace the origin of food from days to minutes.

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