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US proposes DLT to trace supply chains of organic food

Emerging technologies like blockchain and DLT offer verifiability, transparency, and real-time tracking, a report by the agency said

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been the latest in the list of governmental institutions to have shown increasing interest in blockchain technology.

The USDA, in a report released last week, has proposed amendment of its rules on organic products to include the use of a blockchain ledger to trace its supply chain. This initiative, led by the agriculture department, comes amid growing complaints regarding the fraudulent nature of certain products that claim to be organic.

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the USDA explained in the report that electronic tracking services including digital ledger technology (DLT) is being considered by the agency to increase transparency, especially for organic products.

The AMS stated that blockchain and ledger technology will play an “essential role” in improving the traceability in the organic products supply chain. Blockchain has previously been used by other stalwarts in the food and production industry, including the reputed IBM Food Trust to improve verifiability, transparency and traceability of food products.

“DLT can provide secure, verifiable, transparent, and near-instantaneous tracking at the item level in complex supply chains,” the report stated. “Critically, DLT can also protect confidential business information and trade secret information by automatically restricting sensitive information to authorized entities,” the report added.

The USDA report, however, did not mention blockchain by name, instead citing several pilot programs as a reference that used the blockchain technology. Walmart’s blockchain traceability systems for mangoes and pork, Nestlé’s attempt at using a public blockchain for its milk supply chain and US-based seafood firm, Bumble Bee Foods, which monitors the supply chains of yellowfin tuna from Indonesia, were all cited as examples that have proven the effectivity of the model.

The agency also acknowledged that utilising an emerging technology like DLT will require increased efforts and resources to develop a system that can be implemented in the organic foods industry. “Barriers to widespread adoption of an electronic tracking system include inadequate access to technology and connectivity in rural areas, acceptance of universal electronic standards (interoperability), and distribution of costs,” the proposed amendment stated.

Recently, the USDA identified mysterious packets of seeds sent from China to citizens in the US who did not order them emerged, highlighting the importance of traceability in the field of agriculture.

Individuals and organisations participating in the global organic agricultural product supply chain are not currently required to be certified under USDA’s existing program can review the proposed rule and submit comments before October 5, 2020.

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