Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Monday, November 20, 2017
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Blockchain: Global Food Companies Use New IBM Platform for Detection of Contaminated Food 

IBM today joined in the recent spate of blockchain news from Intel and Microsoft with two significant announcements:

  • The adoption by major food companies of a global blockchain implementation aimed at quick detection of contaminated food,  a chronic problem that kills 400,000 people annually;
  • The launch of the IBM Blockchain Platform, upon which the food blockchain is based, the first integrated, enterprise-grade production blockchain platform, IBM said, that allows companies to quickly activate business networks. The platform enables multiple parties to jointly develop, govern, operate and secure blockchain networks to help enterprises accelerate blockchain adoption.

The food supply blockchain is comprised of an impressive consortium of companies that includes Dole, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick & Co., Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Walmart. The blockchain is intended to serve as a transparent environment for transactions among the participating growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers and regulators. In addition, consumers can access information about the origin and state of food they buy. Members of the ecosystem will use the blockchain network to trace contaminated products to their sources and remove them from store shelves faster than would otherwise be possible.

Every year, one in 10 people become ill and 400,000 die globally due to contaminated food, according to the World Health Organization. The IBM platform is aimed at such food safety issues as cross-contamination, the spread of food-borne illness, unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls, which are magnified by lack of access to information and traceability.

“It can take weeks to identify the precise point of contamination, causing further illness, lost revenue and wasted product,” IBM said in its announcement, citing a recent case of salmonella in papayas in which it took more than two months to identify the farm source, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

“Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system – equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president, food safety, Walmart. “It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network. This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all.”

IBM said that in parallel trials with Walmart in China and the U.S., the two companies recently demonstrated that in seconds instead of weeks, blockchain can track a product from the farm through every stage of the supply chain to the retail shelf. “These trials also demonstrated that stakeholders throughout the global food supply chain view food safety as a collaborative issue, rather than a competitive one,” IBM said.

Blockchain is regarded by industry analysts and other observers as one of the most complex of the new advanced technologies coming onto the market. The IBM Blockchain Platform, available via the IBM Cloud, includes consulting services and, according to the company, builds off of blockchain projects IBM has built for more than 400 organizations in financial services, supply chain and logistics, retail, government and health care.

“Extensively tested and piloted, the platform addresses a wide range of enterprise pain points, including both business and technical requirements around security, performance, collaboration and privacy that no other blockchain platform delivers today,” IBM said in its announcement. The platform includes capabilities developed through open source collaboration in the hyperledger community, including the newest Hyperledger Fabric v1.0 framework and Hyperledger Composer blockchain tool, both hosted by the Linux Foundation.

Features of the IBM Blockchain Platform include:

  • Network tools that IBM said bring blockchain networks up to speed in minutes. The platform also includes what IBM said is the first commercial introduction of Hyperledger Composer, a framework that helps developers focus on the business use case and more easily and quickly map it to the application code. Developers can create standard business language in JavaScript and the APIs help keep development work at the business level, reducing the technical complexity for programmers.
  • Governance capabilities that IBM said give members of a blockchain “a level of control, while preventing any one member from having exclusive control.” This includes a class of democratic governance tools aimed at helping improve productivity across the organizations with a voting process to govern member invitation distribution of smart contracts and creation of transactions channels.
  • An architecture that IBM said operates on more than half of today’s global transactional systems and allows updates to be made to the network without downtime interruptions to operations. For security, IBM said the platform provides the highest-level commercially available tamper resistant FIPS140-2 level 4 protection for encryption keys. In fact, even under court order IBM cannot access the blockchain ecosystem's encrypted data, the company said.

“Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together, enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth,” said Marie Wieck, general manager, IBM Blockchain. “IBM’s platform further unleashes the vast potential of this exciting technology, making it faster for organizations of all sizes and in all industries to move from concept to production to improve the way business gets done.”

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