Blockchain technology is set to revolutionise the food supply chain in terms of traceability and transparency, according to global certification consultant Bureau Veritas.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) investigated 2,265 cases of food contamination for the 2016-17 period, which was a 30% increase on the previous year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded that 420,000 people die every year from contaminated food, with almost one in 10 becoming sick from eating tainted foods.

Bureau Veritas’ white paper ‘Food traceability: the blockchain revolution’ identifies obstacles in the global food supply and presents solutions using blockchain.

According to the white paper, ‘Blockchain is a shared, distributed ledger that makes it possible to record transactions and track assets (for example products or money) without a central repository’.

It enables all members of the network to share and validate transactions every time they appear, eliminating the need for intermediaries, contradictory internal regulations or a third party audit. The paper says all of this makes blockchain ideal for end-to-end traceability, as it is designed to track asset creation, transformation and transactions.

Bureau Veritas UK certification managing director Joy Franks identified that complete traceability in the food supply chain has been an elusive goal due to significant costs and logistical problems for manufacturers and suppliers.

“Inherently, the issue is complexity. A single product may go through six to eight stages of a supply chain before it ends up on shelves, making end-to-end traceability using current methods such as sampling nigh on impossible to achieve,” Franks said.

“As such, we need only look at the rising number of food safety breaches, which can often result in irreversible reputational damage to understand how blockchain technology can revolutionise the industry by increasing the reliability of information.”

Using the technology, all members can automatically trace the origin of a failed test or inspection of a product at any stage of the food supply chain. This could help food manufacturers and suppliers to improve efficiency by eliminating unnecessary intermediaries.

Other advantages

Blockchain technology brings other advantages to the food supply chain, according to Bureau Veritas. Not only can it be accessed by all participants recording any types of information, but also the cryptography element protects private company information and makes use of smart contracts, which provide extra security. Smart contracts are automated rules governing a blockchain transaction.

“It is easy to see why blockchain is such an exciting development for the industry. Blockchain’s very advantages – the need for consensus, the immutability of data, the ability to use smart contracts and permissions – raise the stakes on getting the system right at the outset” said Franks.

“As a result, it can increase the reliability of information, making complete traceability possible without any single all-powerful actor, or the presence of an independent third party at every transaction–making it a quicker, cheaper and more efficient process.

Franks believes that blockchain technology is the future of the food supply chain and advises organisations to innovate in order to bring on a new era of food traceability.

At the Global Food Conference last year, Bureau Veritas Vice President of Food Vincent Bourdil said: “We believe that Blockchain is a technology that is disrupting our traditional business and we need to leverage it to bring traceability to a new era. We cannot continue inspecting just a small percentage of produce as it moves along the supply chain.”