In 2013, Ireland's Food Safety Authority (FSA) ran a variety of tests on frozen beef patties sourced from various supermarkets throughout the region. The idea was to see whether the meat had been altered or tainted. To their surprise, they found that over a third of the patties they tested had traces of DNA associated with horses. After the discovery, FSA officials reported their findings to their UK equivalent as the country shares the same supermarkets. Traces of horse DNA were found in their meat as well.
From that moment forward, fingers were pointed and so began a blame game, with each link among supply chains placing blame on the link before them. Supply chains, being so complex and relying on outdated systems, caused a significant delay in locating the source of the fabricated meat.
Food fraud has become a common problem throughout the global food industry. Although there is no shared definition of food fraud, the general definition is based around acts pertaining to the altering of food, either by providing false advertising through labels or altering products by the addition of harmful additives for financial gain.
In 2013, in response to the horse meat crisis, the EU developed the Food Fraud Network (FFN) – a task force developed to further regulate food production throughout Europe. Throughout time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a US food regulator, has also taken steps to combat food fraud. Although regulation differs by country, general regulation requires food to be monitored throughout its various stages as it moves through supply chains. However, these regulations can be hard to enforce as food constantly moves from one hand over to the next. Food traceability is one of many leading methods to prevent food fraud, yet the current systems in place suffer from a variety of flaws.
The flaws in our food traceability systems
One of the most prevalent problems with food traceability is merely a lack of unification and communication. Food regulation does not adhere to a global standard, and regulation standards tend to differ from one region to another.
Because of this, retailers lose a significant amount of money and end up with an abundance of paper-based records which are prone to human error and tampering. This can significantly slow the process of identifying where food fraud may have been enacted, as shown through the 2013 horsemeat crisis in Europe.
The fact of the matter is that existing traceability systems are ineffective in preventing food fraud due to the lack of a unified system. However, recent advancements in blockchain may offer a solution to the currently flawed system through which the foods we consume are transferred.
New technology to make food supply chain transparent
Blockchain has fairly recently begun to expand its uses across industries. It is equipped with a variety of benefits which have increased its adoption in not only the food industry but in medical, pharmaceutical, and financial industries as well. The technology's distributed ledger provides a valuable tool when tracing items through the supply chain.
A The Grocer survey shows that 65% of meat shoppers say traceability is important to them. For this, each point in the supply chain should be monitored and tracked more thoroughly then current systems in place. The basic idea behind the application of blockchain here is to have each point in the chain added to a ledger, with each aspect of the transferred food being uploaded to the blockchain.
For example, when a food item is shipped, that data is added to the chain and when it is altered or something is added, that data is recorded too. Each point in the chain is updated up until the final product is placed upon store shelves. That data can then be accessed by regulators and consumers alike, thereby providing a greater means of transparency. Distributed ledgers by nature are highly secure in that their data is shared by all members of the chain, and old data can only be altered with the majority of the chain arriving at a consensus. Due to this fact, data is stored digitally and shared with all members throughout the supply chain process. This allows for greater efficiency and a decrease in human error.
Will the technology provided by a custom blockchain development company become the perfect solution to the food problem? Only time will show. Currently, there are some projects underway. For instance, South Korea is developing a blockchain for beef, which traces cattle from birth up until slaughter and distribution. This is set to replace South Korea's paper-based reporting system which the local news agency Yonhap says "takes time and money, and is exposed to risks of fake certificates".
Once the trial period is completed, the blockchain is expected to be launched sometime in 2019. South Korea is using this recent technology to prevent false certificates and to ensure the quality of its beef products, however, it can be applied to any food supply chain to increase transparency and reduce food fraud.