Using blockchain in the food supply chain may improve consumer safety, but experts say reluctance from suppliers and a lack of viable use cases are preventing widespread adoption.
Challenge of Blockchain- For retailers and wholesalers, the dream of deploying blockchain in the food supply chain is to control food freshness and safety to limit recalls and liability issues, while also increasing efficiencies and reducing waste. Some of the relief from liability and recall concerns comes from moving liability from the buyer to the supplier. However, doing so causes some trepidation among smaller suppliers with fewer resources than their buyers.
“Anytime that you hold a supplier accountable, there is reluctance,” said Scott Carlson, head of blockchain security at Kudelski Security, in an email interview. But there are upsides to that accountability for suppliers, buyers and consumers, he said, including holding bad actors accountable for their bad practices.
It’s unlikely that there are a lot of food manufacturers who are purposefully neglectful. For those that are, not following expected rules of food safety is sure to put them out of business.
Wider use of blockchain in the food supply chain could also make suppliers more accountable for labor violations or cutting corners. The food market is traditionally a behind-the-scenes business, with few people understanding who does the work or why certain steps are in place. Bringing this information to the public eye is bound to shine a light on bad practices, especially in countries that are not yet fully industrialized, Carlson said.
“The hope is that the consumer will be able to pick up beef at the grocery store or from a delivery service, scan it with a QR code, and then see where the cattle grazed before they turned into ground beef,” explained Josh Datko, owner of Cryptotronix, a consultancy in IoT security that frequently works with blockchain companies, in email.
Benefits and challenges of blockchain food supply chain growth
“The primary benefit of blockchain in the food and beverage supply chain is consumer safety,” said Alex-Paul Manders, a director at Information Services Group, a research and advisory firm, via email. “It is probable that more food and beverage organizations will become involved with track-and-trace initiatives over the next 12 months as the result of changing or anticipated legislation changes at the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] level,” Manders added.
Other benefits can come from societal pressures, consumer demand and legislator awareness of labor, nutrition and environmental issues.
Detractors fear that these benefits can be offset by the deliberate entry of misleading or incorrect data into blockchains.