China’s fake food crisis could soon be a thing of the past if the project currently being implemented by Walmart, JD.com, IBM, and Tsinghua University becomes successful. In an announcement made today, December 14, 2017, the four entities said they would collaborate on a Blockchain technology project dubbed the Blockchain Food Safety Alliance that seeks to connect players along the food supply chain in China.
The four companies plan to collaborate to develop a standards-based protocol for collecting data about, among other things, the origin, authenticity, and safety of the food products in the Chinese market. This, they hope will offer real-time traceability of the food while in the supply chain. The overall aim of the project is to boost accountability while providing suppliers, consumers, and regulators, greater insights, and transparency in how the food is handled from the point of production to the end user.
Fragmented Data-sharing Systems to Blockchain
In the past, such a process has not been possible because authorities in China rely on fragmented data-sharing protocols that are paper-based and error-prone. In the project, the retail giants will collaborate with IBM and the National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies of Tsinghua University to offer standards, solutions as well as partnerships that can create a broad-based safety environment for food sold in the world’s most populous country.
The Vice-President for health and food safety at Walmart, Frank Yiannas was quoted saying, “As a global advocate for enhanced food safety, Walmart looks forward to deepening our work with IBM, Tsinghua University, JD and others throughout the food supply chain.” He added that through the collaboration, the project would provide standardization while adopting novel and innovative practices that effectively improve traceability. He hopes that eventually, this will make the global food environment safe for consumers.
In the footsteps of Alibaba
This project is not entirely new in the Chinese food market. Earlier, Alibaba founder Jack Ma announced that his almost $300 billion e-commerce firm would experiment with blockchain to track food items in the supply chain. The Alibaba project intends to give vendors in the marketplace a chance to verify the authenticity of food products in the market so they can kick out the counterfeits.
Unlike this latest collaboration, the Alibaba project conducted pilot tests in New Zealand and Australia, which are the leading suppliers of food products that Alibaba sells in the Chinese market.
But counterfeit Soy Sauce?
Some of the food products that have gotten into the Chinese market include counterfeit soy sauce, wine, eggs, and rice. Now China’s second largest online marketplace, JD.com, is partnering with other stakeholders to fight counterfeits and trace the source of all food products it sells.
Bridget van Kralingen, the IBM senior vice president for Industry Platforms and the key representative in the project, said, “Blockchain holds incredible promise in delivering the transparency that is needed to help promote food safety across the whole supply chain.”
The food market in China is worth several billions of dollars and, with customers increasingly questioning the source of their food, this project couldn’t have come at a better time.