Walmart and IBM looking at "blockchain" to radically improve traceability

Published on
June 7, 2017

Just as the internet came bursting onto the scene a quarter-century ago, forever altering the ways in which we collect and consume information, so emerges blockchain, a new kind of un-editable database already being heralded by the likes of Walmart and IBM for its potential to transform traceability. 

Walmart investors last week were updated on the global retailer’s “very encouraging” first foray into blockchain’s supply chain applications, which can offer a variety of weening and processing details, including the date an animal was slaughtered as well as the weather and farming conditions present during harvest.  

“This is just the start of our blockchain exploration,” Walmart said in a statement obtained by CoinDesk. “We plan to continue to test the technology, by including more data attributes, for example. And we will continue to test how we can use it to improve food traceability and transparency by collaborating with others throughout the supply chain. This means farmers and suppliers and other retailers." 

The technological driving force behind virtual currency bitcoin, blockchain “allows counter parties to transact using individual codes for goods,” according to Phys Org. The system has the "potential to create what I call a digital and transparent food system," Walmart Food Safety Vice President Frank Yiannas told the website.

Working with IBM and Tsinghua University of Beijing, Walmart tested out blockchain on mangos in the United States and pork in China. And while such goods seem a far cry from seafood, Liz Powell, an executive vice president at Edelman, a global communications marketing firm, believes it’s only a matter of time before the entire food industry – including seafood supply chains – are changed by the system.

“My industry friends and my tech friends tell me it’s coming pretty fast. Kind of like the internet 20 to 25 years ago,” Powell said of blockchain during a plenary at the 2017 SeaWeb Seafood Summit, taking place in Seattle, Washington from 5 to 7 June.  

“It’s a distributed database, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, that contains un-editable, coded information inherent in each product that really exposes where food is coming from – where it’s been sourced – from source to table,” Powell explained.

Blockchain, if successful, could usher in a new era for digital traceability, where information can be trusted and used to improve outcomes.

“It is un-editable, so it’s not something that can be edited, and it really does illuminate the path food takes to someone’s plate,” Powell said.

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