You Are What You Eat: The Place of Blockchain in the Future of Food
As food producers and restaurants come under scrutiny for their quality and content, blockchain has found itself in a whole new emerging market in the form of food tracking.
Across cultures and countries, one thing that is consistent between human beings from all walks of life is food. Stripping away all the modern trappings of technology, the internet and so on, food is one of the basic necessities needed for human survival and as such food is big business with the industry estimated to be worth billions across the globe.
Because the human population is ever-expanding, there is always a growing need for the production and supply of food to feed the masses. However, as a result of the sheer scale of the food industry, quality control cannot be completely guaranteed especially for the masses who are constantly being educated about what is in the food they are eating.
This only became worse with the advent of fast food chains as the now-quick and easy nature of the food we consume has created an even bigger demand for food production; because we do not produce our own food, for the most part, we are to an extent left at the mercy of food providers and what they tell us is being provided. Besides descriptions on menus and ingredient labels on food cans, most people do not know for certain what is in the food we eat, and many do not care enough.
However, because of the oversight provided by the government over the food industry as well as pressure from those who have dietary restrictions or are simply concerned about health, there is a constant investigation from higher bodies into the conditions and final products being served to consumers which have brought up some interesting findings.
While it would be convenient to simply assume that food production companies and restaurants tell the truth about what is in the food they serve, it is clear that the truth isn’t always being told, as evidenced by the many scandals that have occurred in recent times that show the level of dishonesty that takes place within the industry.
In 2013, it was reported that traces of pork DNA were found in various pastries and pies that were served to prisons and were described as being halal. The Food Standards Agency got involved in the case and the Justice Minister at the time, Jeremy Wright, said that the incident was unacceptable. Under Islamic law, Muslims are forbidden from eating pork and as such, food termed halal is expected to adhere to strict standards and be free of pork meat. Needless to say, the discovery of this was a huge scandal and caused outrage both inside and outside of the Islamic community in the UK.
“Clearly this must be distressing for those affected and they can be reassured we are doing everything we can to resolve the situation,”
Unsurprisingly, this was not the first or the last time such an incident would take place. In 2018, the Food Standards Agency announced that undeclared animal DNA was found in at least one out of five meat products that were sold in supermarkets. The study was done on 665 results from England, Wales and Northern Ireland in which 145 samples were partly or wholly made up of an unspecified meat and in some cases, no DNA from the animals listed on the food packaging was actually contained in the meat which means that consumers were eating something entirely different from what was advertised. This was done across supermarkets, restaurants, and food processing plants, showing that this practice is industry-wide and not limited to a single sector.
Even products that were advertised as being vegetarian and vegan-friendly showed traces of meat and were sold in popular retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
The false advertising of food is not limited mainly to what is in the food but sometimes when the food was made as in 2016, the OSI Group was fined $3.6 million by a court in Shanghai after it was revealed that several employees had been repackaging expired meat as fresh and fit for sale; 10 employees were also jailed as a result of the scandal. There is already a sense of suspicion that exists among consumers towards large corporations that deal in food because it is believed that some sort of corner cutting will take place.
However, while some might be apathetic, a good part of the population does care about what is in their food and dietary practices such as veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise. People are also becoming more informed about the long-term effects of eating over processed or tainted food. Segments of the population such as Muslims and Hindus must also be considered as their religious practices restrict them from eating certain things.
While fast-food is still a billion-dollar business, there is the need to further reassure customers as time goes on that they are not being deceived through advertising and blockchain might just be the way to go about it.
It is apparent that the food industry sees the need to not only protect their business but also maintain customer trust and as such, a number of large companies have begun adopting blockchain technology in the tracking of their produce. Two prominent examples are Walmart and Sam’s Club who announced in 2018 that they would be requiring their vegetable suppliers to track their farm produce from the point of origin. This was in a bid to combat an E. coli outbreak by making sure each farm was registered on a blockchain platform and all produce was as well. That way, should an outbreak occur on any farm, the produce from the farm could be stopped in the supply chain before it reached consumers and infected them.
Another firm that is going the blockchain route is Carrefour, a French supermarket which intends to deploy a blockchain platform through which customers can scan QR codes on their dairy products and then track the product from the farm to the final point-of-sale. By doing this, customers can be made aware of all aspects of the production such as the farm it came from, the type of cows and even the food that the cows were given before the goods were produced. For customers who are very health conscious or simply want to be more informed about the food they eat, this would be a great idea especially since Carrefour has launched a similar initiative for the tracking of chickens, tomatoes, eggs, and even oranges.
Ultimately, consumers in the 21st century have more options than ever and will gravitate more towards products and brands who are actually trying to meet their needs. In the past, consumers were somewhat at the mercy of what their food producers and restaurants were feeding and telling them but it now looks like this the customer can be sure of what they are buying and as this becomes the industry norm, companies that do not give customers this assurance will find themselves slowly shut out of the market