Blockchain technology could contribute to the international fight against food fraud.
When a family in the United States eats a piece of fish for dinner, they might be eating seafood caught near Fiji by a Chinese ship, shipped to a packing plant in Thailand and sold to a distributor in Mexico before. even reach an American wholesaler. and finally a supermarket chain in Chicago. And to complicate matters further, the sale name of a fish that crosses a global supply chain can vary from country or region to region.
How, then, can a single country provide the regulatory oversight necessary to protect consumers?
Food fraud regulations vary by country: some are more tightly controlled, such as in the European Union and pan-European countries, while others are less, such as in the United States and Australia. Cross-border surveillance and enforcement is obscured by common food names, definitions of illegal food activities, and different regulatory processes.
Transnational and often ocean-based food transport supply chains are long and have many vulnerable points that can be contaminated and infiltrated by criminals.
Food regulations tend to focus on food safety to safeguard human health. Yet human health can be compromised by for-profit criminal infiltration in which the risk of detection is low and the likelihood of punishment is even lower. Emerging and decentralized technologies, such as blockchain, provide cost-effective, non-manipulative, and transparent methods for tracing every step of the journey from farm to fork – or, so to speak, from sea to dinner. While consumer confidence may increase in some products and brands that adopt traceability technology, the cost will undoubtedly be passed on to the consumer.
Is it worth it?
Food fraud is estimated to cost the global food industry $ 49 billion annually. It involves intentional deception for profit, including food labeling, adulteration, misrepresentation of country of origin, misrepresentation of weight, misrepresentation of nutritional information, and repackaging. It is a borderless crime that has infiltrated supply chains to generate profit.
In the past, food fraud was as lucrative as cocaine trafficking, with a much lower risk of interception. Like cocaine trafficking, food fraud typically occurs alongside enabling crimes, such as corruption, document fraud, and other processes to facilitate border crossing and avoid food security testing.
Few foods seem to be free from fraud. The scams target not only highly prized, rare and expensive foods, such as Beluga caviar, Densuke black watermelon, and Yubari King cantaloupe, but also high demand and low to medium cost daily staples, such as alcohol, mineral water, seasoning cubes, seafood and olive oil. The net result is that no food or location is immune to food fraud, but the regulations to control food fraud are far from perfect.
Existing legal remedies cannot prevent all criminal activity in this area, but there may be a beneficial technological approach to regulating food fraud.
Blockchain is one of the most promising technological advancements in suppressing food fraud. It digitizes secure or “block” transactions at every stage of the supply chain, visible directly to those with access to this blockchain ledger, eliminating the need for middlemen. Each block is encrypted with a unique, non-manipulable identifier, so the blockchain provides a completely decentralized, transparent, and traceable chain of control, starting with the source (assuming the producer is not engaging in fraud). Blockchain has been applied successfully outside of the food industry and is increasingly being tested within it.
Blockchain offers the ability to track in real time, eliminating the need for tedious and potentially fraudulent document processing. While supply chain vulnerabilities are evident in transnational transport, blockchain could close the loop of possible criminal infiltration along the supply chain and therefore reduce food fraud.
Sea freight is one of the most widely used forms of food transportation, and the effectiveness of blockchain depends on its adoption by all points of the supply chain. The utility of the blockchain is limited unless all points in the supply chain join the system – including producers, freight forwarders, ports and shipping companies, distributors, wholesalers and tradespeople.
There are options that may be right for a particular product or industry, but there are no quick fixes to tackling food fraud. As with any technology, however, there are potential obstacles and challenges. Some of them include the cost of implementation, maintenance and upgrade; access to all places, such as farms on the high seas and isolated farms; usability, access, availability and assistance for user training; and suitability, reliability and suitability for the use of the technology.
Despite these obstacles and challenges, the potential protections that blockchain solutions offer could outweigh their cost.
By removing anonymity from food supply chains, blockchain technology can support a safer, smarter and more sustainable food supply. The cost of adopting blockchain technology will undoubtedly be passed on to the consumer, and therefore, awareness of the benefits of blockchain must be made available to secure consumer buy-in. Fortunately, such a buy-in might be easier to obtain than you think. Academics such as Sam Goundar and Abderahman Rejeb have found overwhelming support, at least by other researchers, for the introduction of blockchain technology into food supply chains.
Yet governments are unlikely to have the capacity to enforce the use of blockchain, as even the minimal economic impacts of such a mandate on small and medium businesses would be detrimental.
Many of the technological solutions available appear to be led by the producer or industry rather than the government. Some industry advocates make a strong corporate social responsibility argument that without the implementation of decentralized traceability solutions, a company’s product or brand could suffer.
Controlling the implementation and use of any mandated technology could also be difficult, and therefore any government push to enforce the use of blockchain could be onerous.
Nonetheless, trading nations should seek to harmonize common names of food and illegal food related activities to support a better fight against food fraud. Communication on effective and decentralized traceability technologies can foster consumer confidence in brands.
Blockchain has the potential to transcend borders and regulations by empowering producers and consumers to legitimize supply chains, eliminating the need for countless middlemen who can facilitate food fraud or other crimes such as corruption. and document fraud.
When it comes to boosting the use of blockchain, government action may prove to be less effective than industry self-regulation, although prosecution of food fraudsters must still continue. International organizations should foster a dialogue and consultation process with key stakeholders to tackle food fraud through collaborative and joint efforts – and through appropriate use of blockchain technology.