After an 18-month trial period, Walmart (NASDAQ: WMT) has announced its push to implement blockchain technology in its leafy green supply chain in 2019. FreightWaves reported the August 1 announcement that Nestlé (NASDAQ: NSRGF) partnered with Dole Food Co., Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger Co. (NASDAQ: KR), McCormick (NASDAQ: MKC), McLane Co., Tyson Foods (NASDAQ: TSN) and Unilever (NASDAQ: UL).
Supported by IBM (NASDAQ: IBM), the companies belong to Food Trust, IBM’s “collaborative network of growers, processors, wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers, retailers and others enhancing visibility and accountability in each step of the food supply.” Thus far, Food Trust has helped to process 350,000 food data transactions, bringing traceback test timing from seven days to a remarkable 2.2 seconds.
Now, according to an open letter from Walmart to its leafy green suppliers, the company will forge ahead in blockchain development as part of the Food Trust. Direct suppliers are required to conform to one-step back traceability on the blockchain network by Jan 31, 2019, and thereafter, suppliers are expected to work within their vertical systems or with their suppliers to enable end-to-end traceability back to farm by September 30, 2019.
“Walmart believes the current one-step up and one-step back model of food traceability is outdated for the 21st century and that by, working together, we can do better,” the letter states, going on to say that “there is no question that there is a strong public-health and business-case for enhanced food traceability.”
“By quickly tracing leafy greens back to source during an outbreak using recent advances in new and emerging technologies, impacts to human health can be minimized, health officials can conduct rapid and more thorough root cause analysis to inform future prevention efforts, and the implication and associated-losses of unaffected products that are inaccurately linked to an outbreak can be avoided,” the letter continues.
“Using the IBM Food Trust network that relies on blockchain technology, we have shown that we can reduce the amount of time it takes to track a food item from a Walmart Store back to source in seconds,” the statement concludes.
“Blockchain can and should be used to promote transparency around food safety,” said Natalie Dyenson, vice president of food safety and quality at Dole, a charter member of Food Trust. "I often describe that as food traceability at the speed of thought—as quickly as you can think it, we can know it," said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart, as quoted by FreightWaves.
Chris Burruss, president of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) notes the importance of the security of blockchain, nothing the technology’s ability to create transparency: “What do you have now? You have a centralized system, which are prone to data breaches. We’ve seen it time and again, if not daily, they’re a part of a normal occurrence. Blockchain seeks to create greater security. It’s not necessarily impossible, but it’s highly improbable [to break it]. It’s a shared copy of the truth as opposed to a centralized system, which is one version of the truth.”
Today, when an outbreak or recall occurs, each participant must disclose their product’s path one step forward and one step back. Regulatory bodies and retailers must take that data and piece it together manually to determine the source of the issue. The process can take days or weeks. In some cases, the source may not be known. But blockchain’s traceability gives users the ability to pinpoint outbreaks before they, well, break out.
“When it comes to safety, this is not a competitive issue,” Yiannas said. “We all win or lose together.”