How Blockchain Can Tackle Supply Chain Fraud And Food Insecurity

This is the fourth part of a series exploring the history, technology, and partnerships of Envisible, a sustainable food procurement company aiming to make supply chains more transparent. Read parts one, two, and three.

Supply company Envisible is using blockchain technology to track its products from sea to store and counter fraud in the seafood industry.

Also known as distributed ledger technology, blockchain allows everyone within a network to share access to the same set of data. Once a data entry is added to the blockchain ledger, it cannot be changed. And because the data is shared, everyone on the blockchain network can hold one another accountable.

The technology is suited for supply chains because blockchain can help connect companies within otherwise decentralized supply webs, Envisible co-founder Jayson Berryhill tells Food Tank.

The basic premise, Berryhill explains, is that the more data collected and added to the blockchain ledger, the harder it is for a company to lie about their product.

“You have an immutable ledger of what was claimed at a certain time, which creates a disincentive for fraud,” Berryhill tells Food Tank. “If you’re committing some kind of fraudulent behavior within a supply chain, the very last thing you’re going to do is enter it into an immutable ledger.”

That is why the blockchain and Wholechain’s other technologies are optimized for generating, recording, and verifying massive amounts of data from each party in the supply chain. More data is intended to ensure honesty, which creates a supply chain consumers can trust.

After Berryhill and his fellow founder Mark Kaplan decided to create Envisible, they realized block chain was the right technology for food supply chain transparency—and that it could be applied across industries. Berryhill and Kaplan decided to spin out a separate company, Wholechain, to house a suite of traceability technologies.

Envisible is just one customer of Wholechain. The technology company also works with Estée Lauder to track the vanilla used for fragrances in its Aveda products, among others.

The backbone of Wholechain is the blockchain platform, which originated at Mastercard. Because of Mastercard’s expertise in finance, its technology has built-in capabilities that other blockchains don’t offer, such as anti-fraud protections for processing digital payments.

The platform was also created with supply chains in mind, Berryhill tells Food Tank. It’s designed to capture an immense set of data from each company along the chain, and create a unique, code-protected record to shield the data from hackers.

For each of Envisible’s seafood products, Wholechain’s platform collects and records data including: catch date, vessel identification, species, catch coordinates, and the method of fishing.

Wholechain also partners with the certification body Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) to provide real-time data of seafood producers per BAP’s requirements. Usually, producers undergo an annual audit and self-report quarterly. But real-time data provides a more accurate picture of a company’s activities, Berryhill tells Food Tank, making it that much harder to hide fraud.

To reduce fraud even further, Wholechain is piloting satellite monitoring with a shrimp farm in Asia. According to Berryhill, it’s not uncommon for certified farms to purchase shrimp from other producers and sell the extra product for more under the BAP certification. By observing how the farm operates via satellite, Wholechain can ensure that the products the farm sells are actually produced there.

Beyond giving consumers more faith in supply chains, Kaplan and Berryhill also want to use Wholechain’s traceability technology to address food insecurity.

Wholechain is working with U.S. Hunger to combine its tracking capabilities with the organization’s food insecurity mapping. Together, the pair aim to identify suppliers with a surplus of food, and then direct it towards those in need.

Wholechain also partners with the nonprofit Feed Forward to take some of that surplus, particularly meat, and create prepared meals for U.S. Hunger’s food box delivery service, Full Cart.

“We can level the whole network of traceable supply chains, and connect the availability of food with the need for food,” Kaplan tells Food Tank.

Berryhill adds that Wholechain’s technology can also be used to combat food waste. The food waste nonprofit ReFED estimates that about 8 million tons of food are wasted annually due to confusion over “best by” and “sell by” food date labels.

By using sensors to capture temperature data as a product moves through the supply chain, Wholechain can be used to guarantee that food will last longer than current label estimates, Berryhill tells Food Tank. More accurate labels can reassure consumers that a product hasn’t spoiled, thereby reducing waste, Berryhill says.

Photo courtesy of David Clode, Unsplash

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