Blockchain can bring supply chain transparency and transform food firms
That’s the view of John Keogh from advisory service Shantalla Inc., who believes technology advances can increase transparency for the benefit of consumers and businesses.
Nonetheless, speaking at the Smart Data and Food & FMCG event in Singapore organised by Food Industry Asia and A*Star, Singapore's public sector research agency, he stressed that this required a change in approach.
He said much of what goes on today is termed ‘Regulation Mediated Transparency (RMT)’, where information is shared to meet regulatory obligations from a position of mistrust.
On the other hand, Technology Mediated Transparency (TMT), which is voluntary and based on mutual trust, is a higher form of transparency that organisations and networks should aspire to.
Blockchain technology will be the key factor to build this transparency and trust, and help to solve issues in the supply chain faster.
Walmart is a classic example of how this shift in mindset can improve business outcomes, he said
When they were operating in the RMT area, they were mainly concerned with complying with regulations, and it took them more than 6.5 days to do a trace-back for a food safety issue.
But a project led by Frank Yiannas, Walmart's vice-president of food safety, sought to increase transparency throughout the chain, with “bi-directional information flow” and joint-planning.
Under this new TMT-based regime, whether using IoT, smart data or blockchain, it took them just 2.2 seconds to complete the track-back task.
Keogh cited a Harvard Business Review article that stated, rather than being 'disruptive', blockchain is actually foundational.
“Of course it will have a disruptive nature to several industries but the context is that it will probably follow same path as the TCP/IP (which interconnect network devices on the Web) in the development of the Internet,” said Keogh.
“It’s a new fabric or new layer. It’s not new tech replacing something immediately but will take time,” he said.
What’s more, its benefits aren’t limited to food safety at the manufacturer or retail level.
Keogh said IoT, smart data analytics and blockchain as a “low-cost monthly service is evolving” for smallholders.
For example, Buhler, with technology such as its rice analyser, allows farmers to pay only about $150-$160 a month, to “get real value”.
He said that such technologies are reducing time for the farmer to undertake analysis and to take corrective measures on the farm.
In smart farms of the future, IoT, smart data analysis and blockchain will help to keep farm animals healthy, improve their welfare and yields, and reduce mortality rates as farmers move further into “precision agriculture”, he added.
Keogh gave the example of the ‘connected cow’, where different devices provide crucial data.
The tail sensor alone can identify an animal in distress which, in the UK alone, can help save up to 100,000 calf and 50,000 cow deaths during birthing.
In one case, using smart tech and smart data, one farmer realised that three of his cows were eating double but only producing 50% of milk as compared to the other cows.
“After DNA analysis, it showed that these three cows were sisters, and they are now hamburgers,” said Keogh.