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Food supply chains have become a contentious topic in recent years, with question marks over standards, safety and the environmental impact of modern farming and manufacturing. IBM, however, would seem to have found a solution – blockchain. The tech multinational yesterday (October 8) launched its Food Trust system, a ledger that will give stakeholders at every point in the supply chain improved transparency over where food has come from and how it has been produced.

IBM has been working on its Food Trust system for 18 months. With its launch, it has revealed a number of organizations taking part in the pilot scheme, such as French food giant Carrefour and Walmart.

Laurent Vallée, Carrefour’s General Secretary, said:

“Being a founding member of the IBM Food Trust platform is a great opportunity for Carrefour to strongly accelerate and widen the integration of blockchain technology to our products in order to provide our clients with safe and undoubted traceability.”

Why blockchain could be a game-changer for the food industry

The advantages of using IBM’s blockchain-backed technology is clear – it offers transparency for everyone. Because a ledger offers a single view for all stakeholders, every transaction that takes place is observable – this means that bad practices, such as a vendor going to a different supplier from the one agreed, to, say, cut costs, can be easily identified.

Walmart’s Frank Yiannas, VP for food safety, explained that Walmart wants to “create the equivalence of FedEx tracking for food,” so everyone involved in a supply chain has full visibility. Obviously, from a safety perspective, this could be huge, and should, in time at least, discourage bad practice.

The success of IBM’s Food Trust system remains to be seen. It is, however, a sharp riposte to blockchain sceptics. It might also turn out to be an important victory for tech optimists. At a time when technology appears hell bent on eroding trust, perhaps this is a vital example of technology helping to reassert the importance of trust in the public realm.

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