Blockchain could greatly improve the world’s food supply, as it transforms the food industry, Foodshed.io CEO Daniel Beckmann tells TechRepublic’s Dan Patterson, because it’s being used to monitor crop production. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Dan Patterson: The blockchain, you may have heard about it, has a lot of theoretical purposes. When it comes to the food chain, blockchain tech has a ton of practical purposes.
How can the blockchain help with the digital transformation of the entire food chain and particularly locally sourced and locally sold food?
Daniel Beckmann: Blockchain is actually very useful in this space. I understand that there are some spaces where there may be some questions about it, but in terms of logistics, this is going to be really helpful to us and to the world. Right now, what we’re trying to do at Foodshed is bring local food online.
The present food chain is built for the 1960s, when they were trying to give everybody the cheapest food at the lowest price, that would stay on the shelf the longest, without spoiling. That’s a system that’s designed for moving very massive things to very massive places, to large amounts of people.
What the blockchain will allow us to do, is bring on smaller and independent farmers into the food chain, so you can get things that are local. You can also get more variety to your grocery stores and restaurants.
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And what’s key here, especially with blockchain. We can bring more people into the food chain to deliver that without the records getting messed up. And in a lot of cases, they’re still using clipboards, and contracts, and things like that. But the other really great benefit, is if there’s contamination, we can find out the source of that contamination with confidence, because that’s really important, and immediately remove it from wherever it’s at. You may remember the recent Romaine-lettuce scare. When something like that happens, it affects all the Romaine lettuce on the west coast. That’s because they don’t know where the contamination is, and it could make people sick, by having something like that happen.
It wastes a lot of food, pulling it down. It also hurts companies’ reputation. There’s a lot of contaminations we don’t care about, and those are the ones that they find quickly. Blockchain allows us to bring a more complicated chain together. It makes us feel confident, when we’re pulling the food down, that more people don’t get sick, while saving a lot of waste.
Dan Patterson: This may seem, to insiders, like a rhetorical question, but bring us inside, help us understand how food is logged and imprinted on the blockchain.
Daniel Beckmann: Well, basically we’re going to have a QR code that follows it through the process.
What a lot of people may not realize, is that even their loose vegetables and fruit often comes in a package, or may have a sticker on it. Start looking for these things when you’re in the grocery stores. We’ve talked to some people about actually having QR codes on the actual food. Not sure we need to be there quite yet, but having somebody scan that at every step of the process also allows us to know where the food’s coming from and if you’re at the store, or it’s potentially on a menu, you could find out when your food was picked, which is something some people are excited about now. Once you start living in that world, it’s hard to go back. It’s pretty cool.
Dan Patterson: What about the chains themselves? Do you use the bitcoin blockchain? Do you create your own blockchain or is there one specifically for food?
Daniel Beckmann: Well, there’re a few major players out there working in this space. IBM is probably leading the way. They’ve done some tests with some major chains out there.
We’re developing a version of our own, but we have to use some of the platforms out there. If we get really technical about it, we’ve been working in Stellar, to begin with. We’re excited about the possibilities for IOS. We hope that’s an easier platform for a lot more people to participate with, and get up to speed. This is something we’re building, and we’re starting to bring online.
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Dan Patterson: So give us a timeline, project maybe 18 to 36 months, where it’s not just your technology, but blockchain tech with the existing food chain?
Daniel Beckmann: We’ll see what happens, because we’re going to be disrupting a few things in this space. Generally, food is a little bit slower to change. There aren’t people naturally innovating in this space. There isn’t the motivation to do that. There will be players who will be trying this in that timeframe. We’re going to be one of those major players who are using it, but it’s kind of the case of, we’re building a new house this year, as opposed to in the 1950s and 1960s. We have the benefit of building something from scratch right now. Whereas, a lot of places that own their own fleets and have their own ways of doing things at many, many different warehouses, and investments like that, they’re not really necessarily interested in doing this.
It’s hard to say when they will be coming online, but increasingly, our customers are asking for this, because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel secure. And there’s a practical reason for this. I’ll be honest with you: if we didn’t need to use blockchain, or we didn’t think it would be a benefit, we wouldn’t. It does have one downside right now, where it takes a bit longer to load. There’s a little bit of education that we need to give people up and down the chain, literally, in order to do this. But I think in a year to 18-months, we’re going to have a very busy application of blockchain in Food Chat.