Nestlé, Unilever, Walmart and others look at blockchain with IBM


"Our work with organisations across the food ecosystem, as well as IBM's new platform, will further unleash the vast potential of this exciting technology".

IBM has identified the global fresh produce supply chain as ripe for improvement when it comes to keeping track of its various constituent links.

The industry group, debuting today, also includes members Kroger (kr), McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Driscoll's, Tyson Foods (tsn), and Golden State Foods.

The collaboration, which IBM said was meant to further strengthen consumer confidence in the global food system, includes USA multinational Dole Food and leading berry marketer Driscoll's, as well as major North American retailers Walmart and Kroger.

The blockchain is meant to serve as a transparent environment for transactions among the participating growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers and regulators.

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For food companies and retailers, blockchain is intriguing because of its transparency in being able to trace each step of the product's journey, all the way back to the farmer.

"This can enable food providers and other members of the ecosystem to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source in a short amount of time to ensure safe removal from store shelves and stem the spread of illnesses", the company stated.

IBM, which operates one of its largest campuses in RTP and employs several thousand people across North Carolina, is emerging as a major advocate for blockchain technology, from bitcoins and cryptocurrency to other uses.

According to 2015 figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly one in 10 people fall ill each year from eating contaminated food - with 420,000 dying as a result.

McDermott explains that the food sector, and food safety in particular, was a good place to start because the various players have a shared goal and are thus willing to work together to improve the system for everyone.

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"Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system - equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors", writes Frank Yiannas, Walmart's VP for food safety, in today's announcement.

Without a blockchain system, it can take weeks or even months to identify the problem and can cause severe economic damage to many companies.

The consortium is exploring areas of the global supply chain that can benefit from blockchain.

IBM said that in parallel trials with Walmart in China and the USA, the two companies recently demonstrated that in seconds instead of weeks, blockchain can track a product from the farm through every stage of the supply chain to the retail shelf. "This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all." said Yiannis in IBM's press release.

The idea behind this project and the collaboration between these different companies is to figure out where exactly blockchains can benefit the food ecosystem.

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"It appears blockchain can help provide trust not only about the origin of food, but also about how that food moved through the supply chain", he added.