Gartner 2020 Tech Trends: Blockchain-Based Business Apps For Improving Traceability and Compliance

According to Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology predictions for 2020, we’re likely to see developments across everything from the Internet of Things (IoT) to automation. This year’s forecast also includes practical applications for blockchain – a technology which players in the food and agriculture sector are keeping a watchful eye on as a way to prevent fraud, deter counterfeits and improve traceability and compliance in supply chains.

A Brief History of Blockchain and How It Works

Blockchain’s history can be traced back to the early 1990’s when research scientists developed a computational method for time-stamping digital documents to prevent data tampering. Despite this, the technology went unused and the patent lapsed in 2004. Some 4 years later, someone (or a group) going by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto released the now-famous paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” which gave the concept significant attention. It is, however, a misconception that Blockchain is synonymous with Bitcoin. As one reporter succinctly explained “…Blockchain is to Bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications…”

In simplest terms possible, unlike a single instance database, blockchain is a replicated database that exists in entirety at multiple locations simultaneously. Blockgeeks described the concept quite well: Imagine a spreadsheet duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Then imagine that this network is cleverly and continuously reconciling all these spreadsheets each time a new block of data is added to ensure they are always in consensus. And since there’s no one location or authority, the data is almost impossible to tamper with because a majority of the instances must agree. Falsifying a record requires forging an entire chain of thousands, or even millions, of instances. IBM has written an informative article on the security principles inherent in blockchain here.

Blockchain’s Potential For Enhancing Product Traceability

One industry that is progressing practical applications of blockchain is the agriculture and food sector. According to PwC, food fraud is estimated to cost US$30 to $40 billion every year. In addition to the economic cost, food fraud can lead to serious public health risks, corporate mistrust and erode the performance and profits of valuable brands.

You don’t have to google too far to find examples of it. In 2012, Oceana conducted one of the largest ever seafood fraud investigations, collecting 1,200+ samples from 670+ retailers across 21 US states to see if they were accurately labelled. DNA testing found 33%, or one-third, were mislabelled according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

Food fraud is a growing issue here in Australia too. In 2015, reports surfaced about an escalation in cherries being passed off as Tasmanian in counterfeit boxes throughout Asia. At one point counterfeit Tasmanian cherries were outnumbering authentic product 5 to 1. Tasmanian cherry exporter Reid Fruits has now introduced measures to prevent counterfeiting including unique, single-use QR codes. Upon scanning the code for the first time, the user will be taken to the Reid Fruits product authentication website. Copies of the QR codes are rejected, as having already been scanned.

A Practical Enterprise-Grade Industry Application

In an effort to combat these issues, organisations are looking at the potential of new technologies like blockchain to bring greater transparency to food supply chains, accelerate investigations into contaminations and product recalls, authenticate history and origin, and provide insights into the conditions and paths food has travelled.

IBM has established the ‘IBM Food Trust’ a blockchain-based network which offers retailers, suppliers, growers and industry providers data across the food ecosystem to enable greater traceability, transparency and efficiency. IBM Food Trust which runs on Hyperledger Fabric, an open source blockchain framework hosted by the Linux Foundation.

Walmart has been an early adopter of the system to capture digital end-to-end traceability event data to improve food safety already requiring that all suppliers of leafy green vegetables (which have been linked to widespread outbreaks of E-coli) are to uploaded data to the platform from September 2019. Other members sharing data on the platform are Nestlé and French supermarket chain Carrefour to track and trace baby formula, Albertsons, Tyson Foods and Unilever to name a few.

Is Your Platform Integration-Ready For Linking to Blockchain-Based Applications?

Fighting food fraud and achieving chain-of-origin traceability will always require a multi-layered approach. In addition to market surveillance and testing, solutions will need to include secure data management, the safe marking of food items, the means to authenticate items in-the-field, as well as the ability to integrate to industry stakeholder collaboration platforms

However not all applications are created equal. Some can only provide serialised identifiers at the product category, batch, case or pallet level, but not at the individual product level. assetDNA however provides the ability to uniquely identify individual products at the item level – which is the key for achieving highly-granular insights and end-to-end traceability. Furthermore, assetDNA can also associate individual items to batches and pallets where each parent and child will have their own unique identifier – critical for product recalls ensuring only impacted items are pulled, while allowing for a safe product to stay on the shelf.

Importantly, assetDNA has been purpose-built as an open, integration-ready application capable of capturing and exporting data in the format required by industry blockchain platforms like IBM’s Food Trust and others like it. In addition, it can work with any serialisation or codification standard, including compatibility with GS1 which is used by much of the food industry to ensure interoperability for traceability systems.

If you’d like to learn more about Relegen’s integrated assetDNA cloud, secure item marking and mobile-enabled platform for item-level identification, authentication and traceability, as well as its ability to integrate with new and emerging platforms like blockchain, please reach out to our application experts on +61 (0)2 9998 9000 or to learn more.