IBM Food Trust expands blockchain network as momentum grows

IBM announced Oct. 8 that its food supply blockchain network, IBM Food Trust, is expanding after growing adoption. The blockchain-based cloud network offers participating retailers, suppliers, growers and food industry providers data from across the food ecosystem to enable greater traceability, transparency and efficiency.

The network is now generally available after 18 months of testing, during which millions of individual food products have been tracked by retailers and suppliers.

“The ecosystem of network participants continues to grow, and today, leading global retailer Carrefour announced they will use the IBM Food Trust blockchain network to strengthen their food excellence actions,” the company stated. “As one of the world’s leading retailers with more than 12,000 stores in 33 countries, Carrefour stores will initially use the solution to highlight consumers’ confidence in a number of Carrefour-branded products.”

Use of the network is also expected to expand to all Carrefour brands worldwide by 2022 as part of the retailer’s commitment to its Act for Food program.

“Being a founding member of the IBM Food Trust platform is a great opportunity for Carrefour to accelerate and widen the integration of blockchain technology to our products in order to provide our clients with safe and undoubted traceability,” Carrefour general secretary Laurent Vallée said. “This is a decisive step in the roll-out of Act for Food, our global program of concrete initiatives in favor of the food transition.”

IBM explained that by using blockchain for trusted transactions, food can be quickly traced back to its source in just a few seconds instead of taking days or weeks. Unlike traditional databases, the attributes of blockchain and the ability to give permission for data enables network members to gain a new level of trusted information. Transactions are endorsed by multiple parties, leading to an immutable single version of the truth.

“The currency of trust today is transparency, and achieving it in the area of food safety happens when responsibility is shared,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Global Industries, Clients, Platforms & Blockchain. “That collaborative approach is how the members of IBM Food Trust have shown blockchain can strengthen transparency and drive meaningful enhancements to food traceability. Ultimately, that provides business benefits for participants and a better and safer product for consumers.”

A growing ecosystem

According to IBM, the members of IBM Food Trust have helped build a powerful global business solution that is interoperable and built on open standards — a design that enables organizations in the food industry to run their businesses more effectively and provide safer food at lower costs.

In addition to Carrefour, organizations joining IBM Food Trust include:

  • Topco Associates LLC, a leading cooperative representing 49 members and reaching more than 15,000 stores and 65 million customers per week;
  • Wakefern, a retailer-owned cooperative representing 50 member companies and 349 stores, and
  • Suppliers like BeefChain, Dennick Fruit Source, Scoular and Smithfield.

“Blockchain holds the potential to help us be more transparent and transform how the food industry works by speeding up investigations into contaminated food, authenticating the origin of food and providing insights about the conditions and pathway the food traveled to identify opportunities to maximize shelf life and reduce losses due to spoilage,” said Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies at the Produce Marketing Assn.

These newest participants join a movement that is accelerating among retailers and suppliers. For example, Walmart, an early proponent of blockchain technology, recently announced that it will begin requiring its suppliers of leafy greens to capture digital, end-to-end traceability event information using IBM Food Trust.

Beyond the goal of making food safer, the IBM Food Trust network and accompanying solutions have expanded to focus on optimizing the food supply. This includes generating insights on product freshness, reducing waste and making the supply chain more collaborative and transparent.

IBM is working with services and technology providers to contribute important supply chain, provenance, testing and sensor data to the blockchain ecosystem. Through a library of IBM Food Trust application programming interfaces (APIs), hardware, software and technology companies can write transaction data directly onto the blockchain network to provide valuable insights. For example:

  • 3M is working with IBM to enable its food safety diagnostic equipment to communicate with the blockchain network, should a food manufacturer choose to enable this capability.
  • Centricity, a grower-owned company, makes it easy to collect, protect and share agronomic and compliance data between systems and trading partners, regardless of formats.
  • Trellis Framework is an open-source food industry standard and API service that enables real-time connections between companies and machines with full automation that scales.
  • Emerson is leveraging its advanced cold chain technology to provide temperature-related information on in-transit, refrigerated cargo to improve estimates of shelf life and food freshness, enabling more actionable data for network members.

“The power of IBM Food Trust is in bringing together not only retailers and suppliers but also the rest of the ecosystem touching our food supply,” said Natalie Dyenson, vice president of food safety and quality at Dole. “For example, Dole is working with Centricity, a grower-owned partner, to connect audit data to the blockchain by leveraging the Trellis framework as a standard for the produce industry, using existing formats and processes. By simplifying on-farm and front-office reporting and putting data on the blockchain, IBM Food Trust has helped Dole unlock the value of compliance data across our suppliers and partners in a cost-effective way.”

Governance for shared a network

IBM Food Trust uses a decentralized model to allow multiple participating members of the food supply chain – from growers to suppliers to retailers – to share food origin details, processing data and shipping information on a permissioned blockchain network. Each node on the blockchain is controlled by a separate entity, and all data on the blockchain are encrypted. The decentralized features of the network enable all parties to work together to ensure that the data are trusted.

As one of the largest and most active enterprise blockchain networks in production to date, IBM Food Trust members pioneered a comprehensive governance model for the network to help ensure that the rights and information of all participants will be managed and protected appropriately. The governance model ensures every member abides by the same set of rules. Organizations that upload data continue to own the data, and the data owner is the only one that can provide permission for data to be seen or shared. Important blockchain network management considerations have been addressed — including data entry, membership, interoperability and security and hardware requirements — while providing a consistent way to standardize data.

General availability

Available today globally, IBM said IBM Food Trust runs on the IBM Cloud and features enterprise-class security, reliability and scalability. The foundation of the technology relies on Hyperledger Fabric, an open-source blockchain framework hosted by the Linux Foundation. In addition, the network includes compatibility with the GS1 standard used by much of the food industry to ensure interoperability for traceability systems.

Participants can select from three IBM Food Trust software-as-a-service modules, with pricing that is scaled for small, medium and global enterprises. Suppliers can contribute data to the network at no cost.

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