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OM in the News: The Blockchain Chicken

April 21, 2018

Did the chicken you just buy at the supermarket have a nice life, roam free, and eat healthy grains? asks Businessweek (April 16, 2018).  Every chicken at Carrefour, the big France-based grocery chain, comes complete with its very own life story, thanks to blockchain software. All you need to do is scan the label with your smartphone to get all the details. Carrefour wants to do whatever it can to ensure its products aren’t tainted, part of a broader industry trend that buys into the as-yet-unproven promise that blockchain can improve food safety.

Nestlé, Dole Food, Unilever, and Tyson Foods are also working with their biggest customer, Walmart, to implement a blockchain platform built by IBM. “There’s no question about it, blockchain will do for food traceability what the internet did for communication,” says Walmart’s VP. For every 1% reduction in food-borne diseases in the U.S., the economy is estimated to benefit by $700 million from increased productivity.

By making suppliers more accountable, adoption of the technology would help reduce some of the headline-grabbing food tampering of recent years: wood pulp blended with Parmesan cheese, horse meat passed off as minced beef, melamine added to water-diluted milk to raise protein (which caused 300,000 illnesses in China), and plastic mixed in frozen chicken nuggets. Such meddling, health dangers aside, costs the food industry as much as $49 billion a year.

Reducing waste is another goal. Recalls contribute to the 133 billion pounds of food  lost in the U.S. every year. Let’s say there’s a norovirus or listeria outbreak associated with spinach at your local grocery. It’s currently very difficult to identify the origin of contaminated food. With blockchain, grocers can quickly pinpoint the source, narrowed to even a single farm. And once in stores, blockchain data—combined with sensors and computer models—could help grocers better gauge the shelf life of produce.Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of blockchain?
  2. How does it work?
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