The future of our trust in food: Tracking meat on the blockchain

Only last week The Guardian exposed the vast scale of food hygiene and traceability fraud committed by one of the largest chicken suppliers. The conditions behind the chicken on sale at many of the UK’s retailers were revealed to have altered slaughter sell-by dates, repackaged unsold meat and mixed older meat with new, all under poor hygiene standards.

Recognising the significant rise in meat consumption, paired with recent food fraud scandals (2013 horse meat scandal, 2017 chicken hygiene and traceability scandal), a 2017 study looks into how blockchain technology can be adopted for greater sustainability in the meat industry, by increasing transparency and traceability.

Meat consumption reaches an all time high

In 2013, the world’s yearly meat production hit the 250 million metric ton mark. This is equal to about 830 times the weight of the Empire State Building in New York City, per year. In addition, the world’s meat production in 2017 is estimated to be double compared to what it was in 1986.

As a result, concerns are rising as to whether shoppers can truthfully know and understand where all this meat originates from. How trustworthy are all the claims and health marks labeled on the packaging?

Despite the vast range of certification marks ensuring products authenticity and adherence to standards, there is an issue with tracing and knowing the precise origin of meat products.

Issues and opportunities of blockchain in meat supply chains

A study by Maastricht University academic Fabian Sander looks at the transparency and traceability of meat, and how blockchain can be adopted to address its current issues. The research gathers data from surveys and interviews with 141 consumers, 30 supply chain producers, and three representatives from government and transparency service providers.

Insights from the research include:

  • Consumers’ tendency not to inform themselves about certification marks on a regular basis, in spite of the value they place on being able to look up the origin of their meat products
  • Blockchain providing a solution to transparency and traceability issues by brokering trust between all the supply chain actors and bears a similarity to what the Internet is to us today: a holistic, accepted, worldwide system with very little to no costs per user
  • Trust and understanding playing a vital role in current transparency and traceability systems, supporting the need to communicating the true meaning of certification labels in more depth
  • The change in mindset required from early adopters to influence entire supply chains to implement transparency and traceability systems

Increased transparency and traceability requires a shift in mentality

“Overall, there is a need for change in mentality throughout the entire supply chain, especially on the business side.” concludes Sander. “Supply chains need to think more holistic and altruistic, and see transparency and traceability as a requirement, not as a choice for their final product.”

At Provenance, we recently proved how blockchain technology can revolutionise the future of meat traceability through our partnership with the Soil Association, where we tracked bacon from an organic farm in Devon all the way to As Nature Intended in West London, read more about it here.

Access the full research here.