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Posts Tagged ‘blockchain’

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Photo: Julia Cumes for the Boston Globe
Mac Hay (left) and Robert Campbell at Mac’s Seafood Market in Wellfleet, Mass. Fish markets are the final link in a blockchain initiative to inform consumers about the food they buy.

Last summer I met a woman running a thriving experimental community garden on an old tennis court in the New York City projects. She told me that she got into growing produce because she found herself overthinking every decision in the grocery store: was that lettuce really organic; were the lettuce pickers paid a living wage; how much fossil fuel was burned transporting the produce to New York?

She may be an extreme example, but I’m hearing that many consumers want to know more about the origins of what they’re eating. They are much less passive about food.

Hiawatha Bray reported at the Boston Globe in October, “A Massachusetts fishing company will soon be able to show diners at a restaurant chain in California exactly where and when the seafood on their plates was harvested, in some cases even showing video of scallops being hauled out of the sea.

“ ‘They can watch it as we catch it,’ said Dan Eilertsen, owner of Nordic Inc., which operates six scallop boats based in New Bedford. ‘The whole story about the product you’re eating will be right in front of you.’

“Nordic Inc. and its distributor, Raw Seafoods Inc. of Fall River, are deploying Food Trust, a system from IBM Corp. that captures detailed information about food production from harvest to table. Now the companies are about to share this information with the consumers who feast on their products — and scallops are just the start.

Food Trust essentially creates a digital tag for each step of the food production process, the data forming a complete biography of every bite we eat, down to each ingredient in a package of processed food. …

It’s already started at French grocery chain Carrefour, which operates stores throughout Europe, China, Africa, and South America. Carrefour customers can use a phone app to find detailed information about two dozen items, including chicken, eggs, oranges, pork, and cheese; Carrefour plans to add about 100 more items by the end of 2019.

“In the United States, early Food Trust adopters are mostly using it internally, to track inventory and monitor freshness. Giant US grocery chains such as Walmart, Kroger, and Albertsons have signed on, as have a number of food suppliers such as Swiss-based Nestle, pork producer Smithfield Foods, and distributor Golden State Foods.

“An IBM spokesperson said that Nordic and Raw Seafoods will be among the first US users of Food Trust to deliver food data to consumers. The experiment begins in November, at TAPS Fish House & Brewery, a four-restaurant chain based in Brea, Calif. A special barcode will appear on the menu next to the restaurant’s scallop dishes. Tom Hope, TAPS director of food and beverage, said customers who scan the code with a smartphone will see the day and date of the scallop harvest. …

“It’s all made possible by blockchain, the technology that underlies digital currencies such as Bitcoin. A blockchain is an immense string of data, each digital tag along the food chain, as it were, adding to the string. The information is stored in an encrypted database that is dispersed across hundreds or thousands of computers. A blockchain can be easily updated with new data, and because it’s encrypted and widely distributed, it’s virtually tamperproof.

“Fishing on the open sea is hard, dangerous work, with little time to punch data into computers. Food Trust makes it easy. The name of the person on watch — the captain or the mate — is punched in once, at the start of each shift. After that, the fishermen just start bagging and tagging.

“Every time a bag hits the scales, a computer records the date and time of the catch, the boat’s latitude and longitude, and of course the weight — generally around 50 pounds each bag. There’s no need for a worker to enter data by hand; it’s all collected automatically from the boat’s GPS system, which acts as clock and calendar as well as a navigator. All this information is uploaded to the blockchain via satellite radio. A fisherman slaps a label onto each bag, with a barcode that links it to the recorded data.”

For a lot more detail, please read the Globe article, here. And start asking questions where you buy food.

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