Walmart, IBM provide blockchain update

by Erica Shaffer
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BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Walmart Stores Inc. and IBM provided an update on food traceability projects the companies launched in the United States and China last year. The pilot projects developed by Walmart, IBM and academic partners use blockchain technology to track mangoes in the US and pork in China as the products move through the supply chain.

So far, results of the pilot projects have been encouraging, according to Walmart. Early trials in the US and China have shown that blockchain technology can successfully trace food products from suppliers to retail and ultimately to consumers. Farm origination details, batch numbers, factory and processing data, expiration dates and shipping details were digitally connected to food items and entered into the blockchain network at each step of the farm-to-fork process.

Computers in the blockchain, called nodes, contains a copy of a ledger of transactions. When a transaction is made, at least two nodes must approve it before the transaction is added to the ledger. Blockchain provides users a secure database that is auditable and immutable — transactions can’t be altered.

“This is just the start of our blockchain exploration. We plan to continue to test the technology, by including more data attributes, for example,” Walmart said in a statement. “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.”

Paul Chang, Cognitive Supply Chain SME (subject matter expert) at IBM, told MEAT+POULTRY earlier this year that “Tracking pork in China is about as important as it gets in terms of food safety,” Chang says. “The ability to deploy this technology in China to track pork really speaks to the scale of the technology and its ability to quickly on-board small farmers as well as large wholesalers and retailers. It’s a big problem in China — they’ve had some issues with contaminated pork. And again, because it’s the most important protein for China, it made sense for Walmart and the Chinese suppliers to try to tackle this problem.”

Furthermore, the blockchain can accelerate tracing of contaminated foods from days or weeks to seconds because the system can track the original source of products all the way through the supply chain, according to Walmart. The company also believes the technology has a role to play in reducing food waste by helping retailers better manage the shelf-life of perishables in individual stores. Blockchain technology, Walmart said, could help reduce the estimated 30 to 40 percent of food waste in the US through supply chain optimization.

“Given the global need for better food safety, there is tremendous excitement by a lot of different players to find a way to more effectively collaborate to get there,” Walmart added. “We believe that food safety is a shared responsibility and we are collaborating to bring more transparency and trust into the food system.”

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