Can Blockchain Fortify the Organic Food Supply Chain?

Omnichain in the News: CEO Pratik Soni’s article in Food Quality & Safety explores how farmers, manufacturers and retailers can use blockchain to gain complete farm-to-fork traceability and strengthen the organic food supply chain.

As they browse the aisles of their local grocery stores, today’s conscious shoppers aim to make healthier and more eco-friendly purchases. Many now favor the organic variety of their favorite food and beverages, and they are more than willing to pay a premium price. In fact, the U.S. organic food market has seen impressive growth over the last several years, with sales reaching a record high of $52.5 billion in 2018, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Organic labels can now be found in nearly every aisle—from fresh produce, eggs, milk, and poultry to juice, coffee beans, breakfast cereals, and snack foods. And a “USDA-certified 100-percent organic” label guarantees with 100-percent certainty that those fruits were grown without pesticides, those chickens were raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, and those snacks were made without artificial preservatives … right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

An Easy Target for Food Fraud

The organic food market is prime target for fraud, particularly since these goods tend to fetch much higher prices than those that are “conventional.” In the United States, USDA enforces stringent standards for growing, processing, and handling organic foods; however, many goods labeled “100-percent organic” are imported—or contain imported ingredients—from countries around the world.

In 2016, for example, 26 million pounds of soybeans treated with pesticides were transported via cargo ship from Ukraine to Turkey and, finally, to California. Certification documents were forged at some point in transit, and the conventional soybeans arrived at port falsely labeled as organic. Twenty-one million pounds were already distributed by the time the deception was caught. Many were sold to farmers of organic livestock—which must be fed organic feed—ultimately compromising the integrity of the organic food label.

To protect their products and processes, organic farmers, manufacturers, and retailers need a system that provides complete farm-to-fork traceability. This is exactly where distributed ledger technology (commonly known as blockchain) can help.

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