Thousands of eggs were destroyed as a food scare spread across the world ©AFP/Getty Images
Thousands of eggs were destroyed as a food scare spread across the world ©AFP/Getty Images

Could blockchain prevent food supply chain scandals?

Technology offers hope, as contamination incidents highlight need for greater transparency and security

Tainted eggs and convictions over the horse meat scandal have shone a spotlight on the importance of transparency and traceability in food supply chains.

Two directors of Dutch firm Chickfriend, which specialises in disinfecting poultry farms, were arrested last month after it emerged 15 EU countries received products containing eggs contaminated with insecticide. Millions of eggs and egg-based products have been pulled from shelves, including in the UK.

Authorities believe fipronil, which is used to treat animals for fleas, ticks and lice, got into eggs after it was mixed with a standard cleaning agent. Its use on animals in the food supply chain is banned in the EU.

Meanwhile, two men were jailed this summer and a third given a suspended sentence for their part in a ‘web of intrigue’ that saw Irish horse meat mixed with Polish beef at a sausage maker in London. The meat was then sold on as 100% beef, increasing profits on each consignment by around 40%. The horse meat scandal, which hit supermarkets in 2013, focused attention on a lack of transparency in supply chains.

Earlier this year a joint Europol and Interpol operation seized 9,800 tonnes and 26.4m litres of counterfeit and substandard food and drink, worth an estimated €230m.

David Read, CEO of Prestige Purchasing, told SM buyers should focus on three areas: market pricing, good contracting and active management. “The horse meat scandal uncovered the fact that buyers accepted pricing way below the market, and turned a blind eye to the reasons behind it,” he said. “There are no lottery wins in the world of buying.”

Read said contracts should ensure provenance and accreditation requirements are detailed, and that suppliers have records to show their own diligence in auditing performance.

“In the food world it’s pretty much impossible to manage every consignment through to source on every supply chain,” he said. “But regular spot checks are effective at rooting out any systemic failure or fraud.”

This is where technology could offer some hope. Research charity IDG conducted a survey that found more than a third of food firms were using or trialling internet of things technology, which allows individual products to be tagged, tracked and monitored.

Coupled with blockchain technology, which creates a highly secure electronic ledger of transactions, food security could be greatly enhanced.

Ken Cottrill, co-founder and research principal at Chain Business Insights, told SM the food supply chain was incredibly complicated and separated into silos.

“The key problem with the supply chain is lack of trust between participants,” he said.

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