UK trials blockchain to secure meat supply chain

The UK Food Standards Agency has completed a pilot study on the use of blockchain in cattle slaughterhouses – said to be the first time the technology has been used to ensure compliance in the food sector.

The pilot involved an unidentified abattoir and used blockchain distributed ledger technology to track meat coming from the facility, with both the FSA and the slaughterhouse owner sharing permissions to access the audit trail data.

The system improved transparency across the food supply chain and now a second pilot is scheduled to take place later this months which will give permission to farmers to access data about animals from their farm.

Thereafter, the plan is to roll out the pilot in other plants in the UK and extend the model throughout the supply chain, although the FSA says that would require industry to take the lead “because the current data model is limited to the collection and communication of inspection results.”

“We thought that blockchain technology might add real value to a part of the food industry, such as a slaughterhouse, whose work requires a lot of inspection and collation of results,” said FSA’s head of information management Sian Thomas.

“I’m delighted that we've been able to show that blockchain does indeed work in this part of the food industry [and] I think there are great opportunities now for industry and government to work together to expand and develop this approach,” she added.

According the UK Government Office for Science, preventing food fraud is one of the areas in which industry is moving ahead with the use of distributed ledger technology, and it’s an important application as the UK is more dependent on food imports than ever before, and “more vulnerable to national food denial than in 1917 or 1942.”

The food supply chain can be difficult to track – as can be observed from the horsemeat adulteration scandal of 2013 – and with many opportunities for fraud “international and UK food supply chains have no choice but to follow best-in-class supply-chain assurance from other sectors, in order to implement accountability and granular traceability.”

There are already a large number if blockchain pilots being conducted in the food industry. In April for example, Chinese online retailer Alibaba debuted a blockchain system for food traceability that had been road-tested by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra and Australian food supplements company Blackmores.

Meanwhile, retailer Walmart is using blockchain to improve the integrity of its supply chains between the US and  China, as part of a consortium between major food producers and technology company IBM.

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