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Report: What Can Blockchain Really Do For The Food Industry? (
A worker monitors a computer that assists in sorting Florida green skin avocados at the New Limeco LLC packaging facility in Princeton, Florida, U.S. CREDIT: Photographer: Mark Elias/Bloomberg

Blockchain is just a digital ledger, a digitized record of whatever data is added by its members, with no ability to verify the accuracy of the underlying data itself. 

Because the truth of that data isn’t actually evaluated, there’s no aspect of blockchain technology that can make sure that the cage-free egg is really cage-free or that the lettuce is actually free from contamination.

For Walmart, the technology will be used to tell stakeholders that a particular head of lettuce came from a particular harvest on a particular farm, so if a consumer gets sick, government investigators will have a head start on the investigation.

Rather than chasing a paper trail for days, they can get to the source of a tainted head of lettuce within seconds, and that should mean less wasted produce, fewer sick people and more confidence in the food system.

Though blockchain is being touted as the technology that could potentially solve all of agriculture’s challenges, it’s not necessarily clear why blockchain is better than something like a database or any other form of digital information storage.

Companies could simply build a database rather than build a blockchain, particularly as some of the original features of the Bitcoin version, like trustless verification, aren’t a feature.It’s not entirely clear why blockchain is the best technology for the job of transforming the food industry, and it may not be.

It may just be that it’s the one getting attention right now, particularly as technology experts look for ways to transfer their experience and make their mark in the burgeoning agritech sector.Where blockchain starts to reach its potential is when it’s used with other technologies and systems. 

At the same time that the blockchain is implemented for food traceability, for example, producers can also put into place systems like enhanced water testing mechanisms or increase buffer zones between leafy green growers and livestock operations.

When used with sensors and precision delivery systems for pesticide and water all connected to a network, as with the Internet of Things, blockchain can be used to gather a wealth of data and employ it in the field.

While blockchain can’t verify that an egg operation is truly cage-free or what that cage-free operation really looks like, it might offer a way for farmers to get more information to consumers.

Farmers, particularly the ones who don’t sell their food to a farmer’s market or get an opportunity to interact with consumers, often struggle with how to engage with the public, looking for ways to explain how and why they grow food the way they do.

Blockchain enables farmers to get data to consumers, but what if it could provide more context, too? That’s the thing consumers really need to make informed decisions about their food.

Blockchain could be used to tell consumers that the corn was grown with herbicide, for example, but maybe someday there could be a mechanism for explaining why that herbicide is used, or a comparison of that herbicide to other weed prevention systems or removal methods.

The complicated nature of agriculture doesn’t always translate so well to a smartphone app, but then again, that might be a challenge that’s too big for blockchain to solve anyway.

I’m a food, science and health writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Slate, Mental Floss, SELF and the Breakthrough Journal. Since 2015, I’ve been fascinated by the intersection of technology and food, from cutting edge cattle feedlots to ... MORE

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    Jakobo Gimeno In an article I once read the world food organization said that 1 in 10 people become ill every year and our global food supply has grown so much that its become extremely hard for food producers and retailers to guarantee the provenance of their products. As we know in any industry people find opportunities to make as much profit even if it means messing with their products. As of now can the blockchain do anything special for the food industry that a data base cannot? the answer is no but clearly a new and better system like blockchain come to mind.
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    Francisco Gimeno - BC Analyst Good report. Why is blockchain more than a glorified database? What intrinsic value gives to the food and agriculture sector? Why to use it at all? Each sectors a myriad of complications and nuisances. The beauty of enmeshing blockchain here is how can enhance the food network from origin to destination in many ways, many of them we can only imagine now.