OnTrace defines traceability as “the ability to locate an animal, commodity, food product or ingredient and follow its history in the supply chain forward (from source to consumer) or backward (from consumer to source).”(1) Traceability and transparency in the food supply chain are important to maintaining consumer health and trust. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and what processes it went through along the way. Yet, while there is a multitude of data in the world, only 20 per cent of it is searchable, most of it hidden away within businesses and organizations.(2) Technologies such as blockchain and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), if implemented in the food supply chain, can help make this information more readily available to both agri-food businesses and the public.
Blockchain was invented in 2008. Created by an unknown person or group calling themselves Satoshi Nakamoto,(3) blockchain technology has the ability to revolutionize the food supply chain through a new method of data verification and sharing. At each step from farm to fork, businesses can upload data to a network for all to see. Unlike a centralized system, where the uploader is the trusted source, the blockchain is decentralized and compares new uploaded data with other participants in the network. This is similar to the way Wikipedia operates, having multiple people factchecking the same source.(4)
Unlike Wikipedia however, with blockchain a new block of information is only added to the shared network chain if the majority of participants check and agree that the information is correct. Verifying across multiple participants might sound like a long process, but in reality this automatic process is much faster and more reliable than the traditional centralized method. Authenticity checks are done by computers in mere milliseconds, and once a verified block is added to the shared network chain it cannot be altered. This prevents any one participant in the blockchain from dominating or dictating the process. It also cuts out any time-consuming middlemen and prevents the spread of false information.
Did You Know?
The first blockchain transaction occurred in 2010, when two pizzas were bought for 10,000 bitcoins. Today, the worth of 10,000 bitcoins is $90 million.(5)
By sharing information across a secure network, blockchain allows participants to build trust with one another, while providing insight into the industry. The technology assists operations managers, marketing companies, and food safety services in making informed business decisions that create a more profitable and safe food system. No one is left behind as commodity information becomes traceable through the supply chain with trans-actions recorded for everyone to see. Consumers can also rest well with the transparency this offers, knowing exactly where their food comes from, especially foreign foods travelling long distances. Although implementation is a slow process, blockchain has continued to gain momentum. Within the food and agriculture industry, the blockchain market is expected to reach over $1.4 billion by 2028.(5)
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses radio waves to wirelessly transfer data. When a tag is placed on an object, this allows the object to be identified and for information to be received about the history of that object. If you’ve ever used a remote garage door opener or paid with a card using the tap function, then you’ve used RFID technology.
Further implementing this technology into the food supply chain can improve traceability and efficiency within the agri-food industry. RFID tags can be placed on agriculture commodities or food products, much like a sticker is placed on an apple, and serve the same function as a barcode. Unlike barcodes, however, RFID tags can hold a lot more data about the product, can be encrypted or locked for security, and even rewritten and used again.
Did You Know?
NutriSmart, a food tracking system created by Hannes Harms, includes edible RFID tags that could be put onto food, providing consumers with nutritional information and complete supply chain traceability.(6)
Also, direct contact does not need to be made with the product for it to be scanned and read.(7) With RFID, a simple wave of the scanner near any inventory and it will read hundreds of tags at once. RFID has an adjustable range of up to 150 metres.(8) This means no more counting inventory one by one! Improvements in inventory accuracy and management allow for more informed ordering and stocking decisions, and fewer labour costs. In fact, implementation of RFID technology has led to between 80 and 92 per cent gains in productivity.(8)
Scanning an item can tell an employee how many are in stock and even help them locate the item in the storage room. This ensures that shelves are full, sales increase, and waste from accidental over ordering is reduced, especially when it comes to perishable food like meat, dairy, and produce.
RFID technology also provides advancements in grocery store checkouts. Instead of scanning each item individually, a shopper can place their basket or cart near the scanner and it will read all the items automatically. The convenience makes for shorter lines and faster visits, boosting customer satisfaction and therefore economic success.
The moment a tag is placed on a food item to the moment it reaches the consumer, it can be traced with a single scan. Pairing this technology with blockchain-secured information can make available the record of a product, reaching all the way back to the production stage. This meets the consumer demand for information transparency and ingredient traceability. It also reduces waste and helps create a more sustainable agri-food industry. The desirability of this system has caused investment to surge. Currently, the food traceability market is expected to reach $26 billion by 2025.(9)
For more information on agriculture technology explore our Nourishing Minds publications here.
1 Food and Bioprocess Technology—A Review on Agri-food Supply Chain Traceability by Means of RFID Technology, 2012
3 Upfolio—Blockchain Explained
4 TED—The Blockchain Explained Simply, 2016
7 Atlas RFID Store—What is RFID? RFID Explained, 2018
8 The RFID Network—How RFID Benefits Retail Fashion, 2011
9 Markets and Markets—Food Traceability Market