IBM recently announced that its food supply chain network, IBM Food Trust, has become generally available and is now open for any member of the food ecosystem to join. The network aims to improve food safety and reduce waste, according to IBM Food Trust Vice President Brigid McDermott.
The blockchain-based cloud network offers participating retailers, suppliers, growers and food industry providers data intended to increase traceability, transparency and efficiency. It has completed 18 months of testing, according to an IBM media release.
“What we see now as one of the biggest problems in the food industry is the lack of transparency. Everybody really wants to deliver fresh, safe foods that meet consumers’ needs, but because information is sitting in notebooks, the industry itself is not as efficient or as safe as it could be,” McDermott said. “IBM Food Trust leverages new technology, blockchain technology, to provide a trusted system of record, which allows us to take a lot of the investments and advances we’ve made over the years and really start reaping strong benefits from that in terms of, initially, food safety, but also freshness ,waste and sustainability over time.”
McDermott said IBM started working on IBM Food Trust with Walmart about two and a half years ago. Since then, IBM has partnered with companies like Dole and Nestlé to test the Food Trust. More recently, French multinational retailer Carrefour announced it will begin utilizing the network with Carrefour-branded products.
"Being a founding member of the IBM Food Trust platform is a great opportunity for Carrefour to accelerate and widen the integration of blockchain technology to our products in order to provide our clients with safe and undoubted traceability," said Laurent Vallée, general secretary of Carrefour in an IBM media release. "This is a decisive step in the roll-out of Act for Food, our global program of concrete initiatives in favor of the food transition."
When many people think of blockchain, they think of cryptocurrency. While IBM leaders consider the Food Trust network a distributed, decentralized ledger, they recognize that the cloud-based food network does not align perfectly with the popular cryptocurrency use case.
“The first use case that anybody created happened to be cryptocurrency, the first few instances of which were done in a non-permissioned way. What that basically means is that anybody is allowed to get on, and they don’t have to prove any kind of identity,” McDermott said. “If we think about permissioning as a continuum from that, where it’s completely open and anybody can join to something that would be very closed, what we see is an opportunity to have a permissioned network that is still very open. In working with some of our early adopters and setting our governance model, we said the solution is open to everybody in the food ecosystem but everybody has to identify themselves. That’s because, as a food business, shipping something from one company to another, you want to know you’re doing business with the right person.”
In addition to straying away from the anonymity that has become associated with cryptocurrency, IBM Food Trust also takes a different approach to decentralization.
With cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, the ledger file is distributed across a multitude of private computers, which represent nodes of the network. With IBM Food Trust, all nodes run on the IBM Cloud, but each node is still controlled by a separate entity.
“The network is decentralized. It is based on the notion of trust anchors that provide trust guarantees to the entire IBM Food Trust community. Each trust anchor runs its own blockchain node and all data is fully encrypted,” Hannah Slocum, Global External Communications, IBM Blockchain said. “All the nodes currently run on the IBM Blockchain Platform on the IBM Cloud. The data uploader owns the data and permissions others to see the data. Data you are permissioned to see cannot be shared or sold without consent from the data owner.”
As part of its goal to increase product freshness and reduce food waste, IBM Food Trust is aiming to make to supply chain more collaborative and transparent. IBM is working with companies like 3M, Centricity, Trellis and Emerson to contribute important supply chain, provenance, testing and sensor data to the blockchain ecosystem, according to a media release.
"The power of IBM Food Trust is in bringing together not only retailers and suppliers but also the rest of the ecosystem touching our food supply," said Natalie Dyenson, vice president, Food Safety & Quality, Dole in an IBM media release. "For example, Dole is working with Centricity, a grower-owned partner, to connect audit data to the blockchain by leveraging the Trellis framework as a standard for the produce industry, using existing formats and processes. By simplifying on-farm and front-office reporting and putting data on the blockchain, IBM Food Trust has helped Dole unlock the value of compliance data across our suppliers and partners in a cost-effective way."
All players in the food ecosystem may now begin uploading their own data to IBM Food Trust free of charge. Businesses can purchase the trace or certificate modules, which allow them to utilize the data other businesses are uploading and permissioning them to see.