Today, a lot of us will be popping a bottle (or two, or ten, you never know) of the bubbly champagne. We’ll eat some cheese, drink some wine and enjoy celebrating the entrance to the New 2019. But, do we really know where the food on our plate or the beverage in our glass came from? Probably not. And checking the label may not help.
Blockchain technology can help ensure the provenance — not to mention the safety — of the food you eat and the wine you drink. It can do this, as it does for other products, by providing traceability across the supply chain.
Just this month, Carrefour, Europe’s largest retailer, announced it would use blockchain to enable shoppers in France to trace where certain food products are sourced.
Carrefour currently uses blockchain technology to trace the production of free-range chicken in parts of France, but it plans to expand to honey, eggs, cheese, milk, oranges, tomatoes, salmon, and hamburgers by the end of 2018.
Such an approach makes sense: There’s a lot of room for error — or malice — in food labeling and distribution. Consider this bit of insight from shipping giant Maersk: One shipment of refrigerated goods from East Africa to Europe can pass through roughly 30 entities, with more than 200 interactions among them. All sorts of things can happen.
Now, when we talk about food and drink, the first concern is safety. Opening a bottle of fake extra virgin olive oil can be frustrating, but salmonella can kill you. So let’s start there.
IBM is also partnering with Dole, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Walmart and others to determine how the global supply chain can benefit from blockchain. The first initiative: Reduce the time it takes to pinpoint and eradicate the source of food-borne illness.
Many food safety issues could be avoided with proper data, supply chain transparency and traceability. Currently, it can take weeks — sometimes months — to identify the source of contamination, or the point at which a product became contaminated. Worldwide, one-in-ten people fall ill, and roughly 420,000 die annually, due to contaminated food, according to the World Health Organization.
Wine economist and expert Paul Howard said:
“Blockchain will be coming for the wine industry and will change it radically.”
Understanding the provenance of your wine is more than knowing the bottle labeled “Champagne” actually came from the French region and not, say, Napa. (Yes, they can call it “Champagne,” much to the chagrin of the French and those who know the difference.)
Let’s start with the wine investors, who spend millions every year. Even they are duped. “Verifying the origin of the wine, its storage, and the credentials of the owner/seller are fraught with difficulty. Scams are commonplace and occasionally headline news. Even experts can be wrong,” Howard writes in Wine Alchemy. And for the connoisseur, it’s not just where the wine is from, but how and where it’s been stored. By combining IoT sensors and blockchain, we could create a supply chain to verify wine’s authenticity.
The average wine drinker also benefits from verifying authenticity, he says. And, he adds, the risk isn’t just bad wine. It could cost you your life. He relates it better than we can:
“Fraudsters substitute cheaper inferior wines, cut them with water, (called Jesus Units!) or use food additives. They have even added dangerous chemicals such as Diethylene Glycol and Methanol which killed people. […] To avoid this, growers could attach an independent DNA fingerprint, Isotopic data, smart sensor data or chemical analysis to the initial Blockchain transaction. That would remain with the wine throughout its life. In other words, verification of wine quality, safety and origins are possible from grape to glass. […] Organic certification? Easy.”
In fact, in December 2016, Everledger, the blockchain technology firm, became what’s believed to be the first company to secure a wine’s provenance via blockchain. It partnered with a wine fraud specialist to create the Chai Wine Vault, which is built on Hyperledger Fabric.
This digital proof travels with the wine and is updated as it moves across the supply chain, Finextrareports. Retailers, warehouses, auction houses, etc. can verify provenance which, according to Everledger, will lead to an increase in value over the years.
Then last year, EY — the parent company of Ernst & Young — partnered with the startup EzLab to launch Wine Blockchain. The goal: certify, and then communicate to the buyer, the quality and geographical origin of Italian wines. The final customer just scans the QR code printed on the wine label to read about the wine producer as well as the process of cultivation, production and processing of wine.
We already wrote of how this ain’t the first time wine industry is interested in both, blockchain and cryptocurrency. Just few days ago, in a filing to the secondary board of the Hong Kong bourse this month, it was said that the wine company, Madison Lab, is to acquire 67.2 per cent of BitOcean from independent third parties for 1.68 billion yen (US$15.12 million), plus about another US$15 million in various fees. The platform is one of 16 operators currently registered with Japan’s Financial Services Agency, but has not started trading yet.
Only “Clean” Coffee
Blockchain can also ensure the coffee on your table came from where the label says it’s from. The benefit isn’t just for the coffee aficionado who wants to know where her coffee was cultivated; it also protects farmers against the exploitation so prevalent in the industry.
Gro Intelligence Insights offers small coffee farms in Kenya as an example. Coffee at the Kenyan exchange typically sells for about 15 times what farmers get paid, and roasters pay even more. Blockchain can add pricing transparency between farmers and the marketplace. Each participant along the supply chain reports to the sender and the recipient of the delivery; this means the true value of the coffee harvest can be readily verified.
Know the Journey of Your Food
Ripe uses blockchain and IoT to create “a radically transparent digital food supply chain… a Blockchain of Food.” The founders were looking for a more meaningful application of blockchain.
In their model, farmers can use IoT and sensors to automate processes and efficiently meet market demand for high quality, sustainable products. Distributors will be able to transparently track food products, providing real-time data on food safety and delivery. As a result, consumers will have trusted, validated information on the “journey of their food.”
Caroline Myran, a project manager for Ripe said:
“There’s a lot of fraud in food origins, especially now that it’s hot. People say ‘this is local,’ or ‘this is organic,’ or ‘this is grown using certain practices.’ With this system, you can prove it.”