WWF investigating blockchain to trace food sources

  • The World Wildlife Federation is putting considerable resources behind blockchain technology to investigate its use in unpicking complex food supply chains and help provide consumer protections.

    Millions of tons of food is shipped all around the world each year, and the supply chain for any one particular product will be composed of dozens of companies operating under different legal systems and environmental standards. The supply chains for some food products are so 'messy' that there's scope for companies to lie about where something comes from and whether it's produced sustainably, and that's a problem.

    An increasing number of supermarkets and consumers in the UK are sourcing only those products listed as being produced sustainably, but unless the full history of the product can be verified then that little blue tick on the packaging is meaningless. Suppliers have implemented measures over the years to ensure that foods such as tinned tuna are now largely traceable from catch to customer, but some food supply chains are still too complex to reasonably trace.

    That's where the WWF believes that blockchain can come in. One of the main attributes of a blockchain is that every transaction on the system is traceable, and transactions naturally can't be altered after they are added. The big challenge in implementing this system for food traceability would be to ensure everyone uses it and all transactions are logged in realtime, from the moment a fish is caught or calf is born to when the product goes on a shelf.

    Blockchain isn't a silver bullet against unsustainable farming practices, though, and it's not yet clear whether blockchain would be better than a simple central database for this task. As we pointed out in a recent article, there's really no such thing as a private blockchain and a public one can become vulnerable to manipulation if more than 50% of the network's users collude. Given the fact that WWF's own stats show that these supply chains are owned by fewer than 500 companies globally, this is definitely a challenge to overcome.

    Source: Wired UK

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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