5 Things You Need to Know about Blockchain
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Here are five things you need to know about blockchain.
- What is blockchain? A blockchain is a digital ledger that is shared across a network of computers. Once a record has been added to the chain, it’s very difficult to change. Since every transaction is recorded on a block and across multiple copies of the ledger that are distributed over many nodes (computers), it’s very transparent. No one owns the block chain, and it’s very scalable. Blockchain is a digitized record of data added by its members, but it isn’t designed to validate the accuracy of the data. While originally developed for Bitcoin transactions, it’s starting to be used in the food industry.
- Benefits for the food industry. Given the global nature of today’s food supply, the supply chain can include hundreds of stages, multiple geographic locations, many invoices and payments, have several entities involved, and extend for months. Blockchain can increase efficiencies across this complex supply chain, being used for agreements and contracts, tracking, and payment. Blockchain provides consensus as there is no dispute about transactions as everyone is working off the exact same copy of the ledger.
- Traceability and transparency. The recent romaine issue highlights the importance of traceability in the food supply chain, and blockchain provides the capability to track each product to its source. As consumers demand more insight into to where their food is grown and produced, blockchain can provide this level of transparency for each specific food item.
- Examples. Walmart uses blockchain to track the pork it sources from China, with detailed records captured on where each piece of meat came from, where it was processed and stored, and it’s sell-by date. The retailer will also use blockchain to provide detailed information on the farm and in which harvest a head of lettuce came from, so if there is a food safety issue, government officials will have a head start in their investigation. Other companies like Dole, Unilever, Nestle and Tyson are similarly using blockchain technology.
- What’s missing? Some food industry experts suggest that blockchain needs to be modified to include verification data. For example, details on whether eggs are truly cage-free or food animals are raised antibiotic free.