THE TECH SECTOR is working hard on tracking what we eat. Jack Ma claims to be solving the ‘fake food problem’, using blockchain to track the goods and see if, and, where, it has been modified.
Whether or not he will be successful, I cannot fault him for trying. It is a great challenge. Blockchain itself is a great system. Famous for being the building block of Bitcoin, it has now got a trace in almost all markets while still in its infancy. Instead of a massive central storage, where all data is gathered and managed (like a bank or central authority), blockchain creates a contract between two parties. These are normally referred to as ‘smart contracts’, and their smartness lies in the de-centralised system allowing anyone anywhere to complete a real-time transaction.
When it comes to food, blockchain allows the suppliers and customers to track products real-time and, through its de-centralised nature, also builds a trust system that allows farms and producers to take part in. In other words, you as a consumer, can find out how the flour in your supermarket basket got to you, the conditions its grown in and the places it’s travelled to.
This is pretty advanced and robust but, in my opinion, the real problem we have to tackle still lies with the people. While it brings business to the supplier, the consumer is looking for the best possible quality. The problems often arise in warehouses and with middlemen who, due to the low profit margin or pure greed, dilute the product, or replace with God-knows-what. Maybe change bottles and manipulate the food. For this reason, whatever goes into a warehouse in China, is not always the same that leaves the warehouse in China (and this applies to many other countries too of course).
It is this behaviour and fundamental building block of our very nature, that must be tackled. We have been able to see our food grow and be produced since we (as humanity) settled down to agriculture. Still, many centuries and leaps of tech, it seems like the only way to know where our food comes from, is to see it grow in front of our eyes. I really hope this changes in my lifetime.