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Blockchain to Drive Food Safety and Sustainability

By Vincent Doumeizel, VP for Food & Sustainability, Lloyd’s Register

Blockchain to Drive Food Safety and SustainabilityVincent Doumeizel, VP for Food & Sustainability, Lloyd’s Register

With the population set to reach 8.5bn by 2030, food organisations worldwide are exploring new technologies and methods to ensure safe and sustainable supply chains.

To meet changing client requirements, Lloyd's Register (LR) is at the forefront of embracing new technologies to blend conventional assessment with digital monitoring to enable the delivery of real-time assurance.

As highlighted in the Foresight Report on Distributed Ledgers from the Lloyd's Register Foundation—the charitable arm of LR—it is clear that this family of technologies has the potential to bring about such changes in a broad range of industries-not just food-especially where there is still significant scope for digitalisation and automation of processes.

Blockchain also has the potential to change the way we buy and sell, interact and verify the authenticity of everything from property titles to organic vegetables.

It combines the openness of the internet with the security of cryptography to give everyone a faster, safer way to verify key information and establish trust. It already demonstrated its efficiency with regard to traceability of the product through this new way of recording transactions.

Within the food safety arena, Blockchain is a hot topic as retailers and suppliers alike recognise the considerable benefits that Blockchain could bring in terms of efficiencies, transparency and brand reputation.

Blockchain also has the potential to change the way we buy and sell, interact and verify the authenticity of everything from property titles to organic vegetables.

Blockchain technology allows for users to look at all transactions simultaneously and in real-time. Transactions are not being stored in any single location, it is almost impenetrable from cyber-attack.

A Blockchain by nature does not belong to anyone; it is decentralised, free, secured and public. No one can control a Blockchain and the data does not belong to anyone but is accessible to everyone. In that aspect, it provides an agnostic platform, which is a key element for such a sensible topic of ensuring safe and sustainable food supply chains.

For consumers, Blockchain technology can make a difference. By reading a simple QR code with a smartphone, data such as an animal's date of birth, use of antibiotics, vaccinations, and location where the livestock was harvested can easily be conveyed to the consumer. Blockchain technology provides a permanent record of transactions that are grouped in digital "blocks" and cannot be altered. So applying this to food safety could serve as an alternative to traditional paper records and manual inspection systems that could leave supply chains vulnerable to inaccuracy or fraud.

So far, Blockchain is known mainly for cryptocurrencies—like Bitcoin— but applying it to the assurance sector could be a very efficient way to track the transaction of certificates and follow the related products with ease along complex food supply chains.

In addition, Blockchain can enable smart contracts. Though in its infancy, this system will address the scalability issue of the controls operated by generating direct action based on various factors.

Let's consider the likes of Wal- Mart, as reported in Bloomberg Technology, the sliced apples or cut broccoli are being used to test Blockchain. If successful, the trial could change how the Wal-Mart monitors, serves food to 260 million customers a week. They can take action when something goes wrong. This will hopefully spur big leaps in food safety, cut costs and save lives.

Like most merchants, the world's largest retailer struggles to identify and remove food that's been recalled. When a customer becomes ill, it can take days to identify the product, shipment and vendor. With the Blockchain, retailers will be able to obtain crucial data from a single receipt, including suppliers, details on how and where food was grown and who inspected it. The database extends information from the pallet to the individual package.

At LR, we are watching Blockchain developments with great interest. There has clearly been a 'rush to market' by many assurance providers but there is a need to focus on delivering credible Blockchain solutions that not only deliver client value but are constructed properly in order to build a really global, holistic and online food ecosystem to bring more resilience and efficiency in that critical industry.

Whilst the issue of the scalability and interoperability with existing systems remain a cause for concern— along with costs—we are on the verge of transforming the way in which we operate; exciting times lie before us.

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