The holidays are coming! Americans and Canadians celebrated their respective Thanksgivings not long ago, and Christmas is just around the corner.
For people whose hobbies include eating to live, that means only one thing — turkey! That’s right; everyone knows it’s basically impossible to be festive without your table heaving under the weight of a freshly cooked turkey.
(Apparently some people go for Goose, instead. Well, suck it up, this article is about turkeys.)
So what does any of this have to do with blockchain? Well, perhaps surprisingly, blockchain is being considered as a way to make the turkey industry more efficient and transparent. In fact, the food industry in general is interested in blockchain for this purpose.
So how do blockchain turkeys work?
Pioneered by agricultural giants Cargill, the scheme to blockchain-ize the turkey industry is actually pretty simple. Each turkey they sell comes with its own unique code, written on a tag attached to the unfortunate bird.
Customers can send a text containing the code or enter it online to find out exactly which farm their Christmas dinner came from. Blockchain allows for the creation of transparent, immutable distributed ledgers, which means lots of data can be handled relatively easily and securely.
Because blockchain is distributed, everyone with a copy of the ledger can access it and view any changes as they happen. This makes things like tracking food and sharing data incredibly easy, as it can be done in real time.
Curious customers can easily access the database and it’s almost impossible to tamper with, so you can be reasonably sure that the information is legit.
It’s a neat system, but why is it so important to know where your turkey hails from?
Worries about supply
There are lots of reasons people are worried about the origin of their food. One of these is ethical — people want to be sure that their turkeys lived a rich and meaningful (or at least not abusive) life before ending up on their plate.
The food supply business has received some bad rep in recent years. There was the infamous British horse meat scandal, where beef products in several supermarkets were found to contain significant traces of ol’ Seabiscuit.
There’s also the health element to worry about. In a time where people are increasingly diet-conscious and wary of contamination, it’s becoming more important to be aware of where food comes from.
According to the CDC, every year 48 million people get sick from contaminated food. And they’re the lucky ones — 128,000 are hospitalized as a result and a terrifying 3,000 actually die.
On top of this, the supply of food is a complex and multi-faceted process with lots of different layers and stages. Companies think blockchain could make the monumental task of organizing things that little bit easier.
It isn’t just Cargill that are looking into blockchain as a way of revolutionizing food supply. Earlier this year Zhong An Technologies in China began to develop a similar method to manage their supply of chickens. They aim to be able to track the birds over their entire lifetimes by using sensors.
A whole host of other food companies including Nestle, Dole, and Tyson Foods are also looking into the technology. IBM is playing a big role in the process, aiming to develop a way to track food through every step of its journey from farm to plate.
This could have untold benefits for health and safety. For example, it could allow businesses to work out exactly where contamination took place in the supply chain, so problems can be isolated and dealt with as quickly as possible with minimal consequences.
It would also be possible to work out where contaminated food was shipped to, so action can be taken in a much more targeted way.
Working with Walmart, IBM has carried out trials proving that they can track a product throughout the supply chain in just seconds.
This is promising news for the food industry, and for consumers who worry about where exactly their food is coming from.
It could even be a step toward wider implementation of blockchain in the food industry, which could have massive benefits for everyone involved. Farmers would be able to sell their produce more easily, show off the quality of their goods as part of a decentralized network, and share information quickly and easily.
Restaurants could also benefit from blockchain, by using it to prove the hygiene and reliability of their food. They could use ‘smart menus’ to give customers more awareness of what they’re ordering and gain credibility.
In fact, a UK based startup called Provenance is already looking into this market, trialing blockchain as a way to track Indonesian fish from the moment they’re caught to the moment they’re served in Japanese restaurants.
There’s a huge amount of potential, and it’s really just the beginning.
So when you’re tucking into your turkey this Christmas, remember — that’s a pioneer you’re eating.
Do you think blockchain will be adopted by the food supply industry? Or is it just a rotten idea? Let us know your thoughts!