Export certification systems could be faster thanks to the use of blockchain technology. The project will start as a proof of concept.

International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) seeks to build a blockchain proof-of-concept for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the food safety entity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The idea is to evaluate how blockchain can optimize export certification systems.

A spokesperson of FSIS recently confirmed the news. He said that the $269,450 blockchain feasibility assessment will search out efficiencies in a process that is often complex and “marred” by regulations, so the main idea is to have a faster system to work with and also preserve the food safety of consumers.

Thanks to the automation of the processes, blockchain technology could help to check some products according to the U.S.’s standards, and, depending on the destination, other countries’ regimes as well, reducing considerably risk levels and making the manual process faster.

FSIS is responsible for certifying America’s exported meat, poultry, and eggs. Besides, FSIS inspectors verify documents, stamps, shipping containers and at least a sample of the export product itself against a broad set of regulations, the inspector training manual shows. An ensuing manual and a digital paper trail accompany products in transit to store the information.

Immutability Documentation

One of the objectives of this project is to verify if blockchain technology can bring “increased immutability and visibility of critical documentation traversing across the supply chain”, the spokesperson explained, noting that, in this case, the FSIS will start by studying the export business process.

“This is the first time that FSIS has sought to use blockchain technology”, the spokesperson commented.

The project is part of FSIS’s wider import-export modernization initiative, according to the FSIS 2020 Annual Plan, where the food regulator first revealed the proof-of-concept’s existence without naming its private-sector partner.

A spokesperson confirmed FSIS gave IBM the export certification study last year. In this way, FSIS gave IBM a nondescript “blockchain proof-of-concept” contract worth nearly $270,000 in August 2019.

The contract runs through June 2020. During that time, IBM’s blockchain will help FSIS understand the role that the tech might play in the agency’s future, according to the spokesperson.

“The proof-of-concept intends to identify and quantify the potential benefits of blockchain technology so that the agency can make an informed decision on the next steps”, he said.

Other companies around the world are interested in using blockchain technology in the food industry to track the origin of certain food products and allow customers to know where these products come from.

The French supermarket chain Carrefour and Nestle are an example. Last November, both companies announced they were using IBM’s Food Trust Blockchain platform to provide their customers with information on the origin of food products, especially baby milk.

Customers would have access to unalterable information since the companies’ idea is to ensure more transparency of the entire supply from the beginning of the production process to the end of it.

Besides, customers would be able to scan a QR code that will be incorporated on the milk’s packaging. In this way, they will access a range of information.

Companies like Cargill, Walmart, Vinamilk (in Vietnam) and an Italian subsidiary of Kraft Heinz are also using blockchain technology to guarantee the quality of the products they sell.

This is an expanding trend that would contribute to reaching more companies and countries around the world, something that means a contribution to the adoption of blockchain technology.

By María Rodríguez


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