Blockchain ups food industry standards and ethical practices

The rise of veganism, ever more demanding consumers and continuous food fraud scandals are pushing food companies and retailers to up their game on supply chain tracking and ethical responsibilities. Blockchain is here to make this happen.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), estimates that every year, 1 in 10 people fall ill from contaminated food. Most food fraud incidents arise from flaws within the supply network, which can result in poor practices across the food industry.

Yet, as the younger generations are developing a more sustainable mindset, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their eating habits and the provenance of their food. Food supply chains are indeed complex and lengthy, involving various stages, from raw material suppliers all the way up to arrival on consumers’ tables. Until recently, it had been almost impossible for consumers to be sure of the origin of their food.

These days, however, because of its integrated network, blockchain is able to bring transparency to food supply chain.

“In the past, it may have been enough to produce affordable food, but now only those companies that earn the trust of consumers will survive. It’s building this outcome of trust that we’re striving to achieve, as we help improve the safety and quality of the world’s food”, says Craig Armitage, Global Leader, Food Supply and Integrity Services, PwC, calling for food companies to prioritise high standards of production and management.

Indeed, this call is not in vain.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is now investigating allegations over meat being found in vegetarian and vegan foods by two leading British supermarkets. An investigation by the Telegraph prompted the agency to dig deeper into Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s vegan and vegetarian labels. The newspaper sent a sample of ten products to lab analysis and eight of them gave positive results for meat traces.

This investigation harks back to the 2013 horsemeat scandal that shook up the British food industry, and has since drawn plenty of attention to the responsibility food retailers hold in protecting their customers from food fraud.

For companies, the consequences of food fraud and related scandals can be very high: after an E.coli breakout in 2015, Mexican food Chipotle saw profits drop 44% in 2015, in addition to the cost of losing consumer trust.

With the use of blockchain and scanning a simple QR code with their smartphones, consumers of meat can unlock data such as the animal’s date of birth, medical history and location of slaughter, following the entire supply chain up to placement on the supermarket shelf. Walmart is already leading two blockchain projects to trace the supply chain of its products.

Another positive of establishing a blockchain-based supply chain is to empower farmers and raw material producers, ensuring corporate responsibility from wealthy food retailers.

With the use of blockchain, prices can also be disclosed. Consumers would be able to check whether the product is actually Fairtrade and figure out for themselves whether there is any exploitation of small-scale producers in favour of big profits for companies.

It is fair, after all, that consumers are fully aware of what their products are made of, and that companies are held to account over unethical practices. The blockchain revolution is here to ensure healthier products and practices.

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