Steven ChopadeJanuary 10, 2019
Is blockchain the holy grail of food safety? A North Carolina crop scientist backed database software programs saying there’s nothing they can’t do that blockchain can. Food safety has been quite a problem in the U.S. due to the outbreak of food poisoning and vegetable contamination. In December 2018, CDC warned consumers to not consume romaine lettuce as it is investing a multistate outbreak of E. coli infections linked to the vegetable harvested from the central coastal growing regions of North California. According to the crop scientist, food safety problems should be first solved from within the industry, and it’s the people that are the problem, not the tools.
Blockchain has attracted strong attention in the food industry as a solution to foodborne disease outbreaks. Walmart recently announced the requirement of joining its blockchain if leafy greens suppliers are to continue to supply to its stores from 2019. Rising number of product recalls amid foodborne disease outbreaks could be another reason that food companies are relying on blockchain. Moreover, blockchain being a ‘private’ or ‘enterprise’ level technology, which allows only a select group of people to access data or upload it, is gaining popularity in the food industry.
However, there are concerns over blockchain not being a self-starter. For instance, the technology may not work if it is not operated or used by the right people. If an enterprise fails to hire quality people, the tool may not be as productive as expected. Despite having a handful of middlemen, if a food company takes longer to trace a product then it shows that the workers are not properly using the tools they already have access to. If this is the case where tracing a product takes weeks instead of hours then it could be very difficult to reach to the source of food contamination. You might miss the source by the time you get to the location in the field where the contamination first took place.
It is possible that agricultural auditors overlook the real picture when there’s nobody to watch in the fields. Direct fraud and bad recordkeeping in the food industry seem to be far from each other, but they actually hold an invisible rope connecting them. Bad recordkeeping shows that the industry is facing a serious problem that erupts more from within the industry.
Moreover, the chilling effect that immigration crackdowns have on farmers and field workers is keeping food safety problems unreported. The constant fear of investigation has done a lot of harm to the confidence of workers to speak up about anything.
Therefore, if there is no accurate data recording and problem detection by the management or enough reporting of food safety issues from field workers, even blockchain that could be a better way to access and record data may be of little use to prevent foodborne disease outbreaks.