The retailer Walmart has joined forced with academics and technology experts from IBM and Tsinghua University to digitally trace China’s most popular meat - pork - from sty to store.
Using blockchain technology, Walmart will be able to digitally store permanent records of transactions that trace food products from farms through the supply chain and a way to identify the consumer who purchased the product. This could prove to be a game-changer for food safety in China, as digital information such as farm origin, abattoir and processing record and shipping details are digitally connected to the food product, with the information grouped together in the blockchain.
This permanent, digital record of full traceability could serve as a step-change alternative to traditional paper tracking systems, which leave supply chains vulnerable to mistakes and fraud.
Plans to pilot the project were announced on 19 October when Walmart opened its Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Centre in Beijing, with a view to dramatically improving the way food is tracked, transported and sold across China.
“Advanced technology has reached into so many aspects of modern life, but it has lagged in food traceability and, in particular, in creating more secure food supply chains,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice-president of global industry platforms at IBM.
“Our collaboration with Walmart and Tsinghua University is a step of global significance to change that. Food touches all of us, everywhere, so we are experimenting in China with Walmart and Tsinghua, given the size and scale of food consumption in this country.”
IBM said its scientists were at the cutting edge of blockchain technology and suggested this could present an innovative new way to improve food authentication and supply chain traceability.
Frank Yiannas, vice-president of food safety at Walmart, said: “As advocates of promoting greater transparency in the food system for our customers, we look forward to working with IBM and Tsinghua University to explore how this technology might be used as a more effective food traceability solution.”
Tsinghua University brings to the table both expertise and young talent in the fields of transaction security and authentication technology. Chai Yueting professor at Tsinghua University, who is leading efforts by the university in the project with Walmart and IBM said it could serve as a model to others.
“China’s rapid economic growth has led to massive opportunities for innovation, but it has also presented quality-of-life challenges, including helping to assure that food sold in the country is safe to eat,” he said.
“Tsinghua University is also committed to in-depth research of food safety – one of the most important areas that the world is focusing on. We believe the work with IBM and Walmart can serve as a global model for others to follow and replicate.”
The technology used by the three parties is based on technology developed by Hyperledger Project, an open-source software project by the Linux Foundation, which is set to enhance blockchain systems.