New Blockchain Technology and Livestock Traceability: NIAA Annual Conference

“Some of the key friction points with food safety are food borne illnesses, cross contamination and recalls, which are not just business issues but public health issues,” says Nigel Gopie, PhD, Marketing Leader for IBM Food Trust, IBM Blockchain, who is a featured speaker at the April 2018 NIAA Annual Conference. With its theme of Livestock Traceability: Opportunities for Animal Agriculture, the conference will feature collaborative discussions on the current state of traceability across the animal agriculture industry, as well as look to next steps for the future.

The major culprit in efficiently handling such issues, according to Dr. Gopie, is a lack of transparency and limited access to timely information along the supply chain, from farm all the way to the retailer and everything in between.

“Everyone has silos of information with diverse systems to manage it,” says Dr. Gopie. “On one end, in terms of technology, you may have your small producer with paper forms and notebooks, all the way to on the other end, your large retailer that uses very sophisticated IT.  You have so many different ways of managing data, you can imagine they don’t always fit together well.”

“That means we don’t have the necessary visibility across the entire supply chain so that something like a recall may go on longer than it should,” says Dr. Gopie.

Dr. Gopie will explain in his presentation, “Transforming Food Supply with Blockchain”, the new product developed by IBM to help solve some of these challenges. “We have a system called IBM Food Trust deployed on IBM Blockchain that is designed to provide better communication for businesses, bringing data together in a collaborative way,” he says.

It will offer an ability to trace food from grower or producer to the retailer. “Consumers can have fuller confidence in information about their food,” he says. “And when problematic things occur, such as a recall, the response can not only be faster, but done in a more surgical manner.” That kind of response could prevent widespread contamination and unnecessary economic impact. “You can actually say it’s just from a particular spot and resolve that issue quickly,” says Dr. Gopie.

Dr. Gopie will talk about IBM Food Trust as a service which currently has limited availability, but which will soon be offered more broadly. “It’s early days in using this system,” says Dr. Gopie, but a million food data transactions have already been entered, processed and tested.

In a sample test, Dr. Gopie cites an experiment to see how long it would take to discover the source of a food safety issue using conventional information gathering vs. using data from IBM Block Chain technology.

“It can currently take days or weeks to discover where something happened in terms of a food safety issue,” says Dr. Gopie, “and a Blockchain-based system is able to trace back very, very quickly.” In the pilot trial, it took seven days to trace the source of an issue with current electronic data methods. It took 2.2 seconds to find out the same information using IBM Food Trust.

“Basically, all the data is at your fingertips, instantaneously,” notes Dr. Gopie, “vs. spending days trying to figure out where something started, while meanwhile a contamination is impacting the industry.”


Another important point which Dr. Gopie will share with NIAA stakeholders is that the million data transactions going through the network belong to competitors and collaborators alike. “Large and small retailers and food manufacturers feel totally comfortable with sharing their data on this network,” he says, “because their data is their own. They control who sees it. They choose who will receive their data and when. They can input data once and then give access to whomever they want to do business with.”

Part of the value is to really be more connected to the supply chain, according to Dr. Gopie. “We have one up and one down, and you don’t necessarily know where your product goes after you hand it off. IBM Food Trust allows people to really be connected, from end to end of the supply chain,” he says.

Dr. Gopie is also coming to the NIAA Annual Conference to listen, he says. “I want to learn more about how to meet the needs of animal ag and being a part of that bigger conversation will be very exciting.”

The 2018 NIAA Annual Conference will be held n Denver, CO at the Renaissance Stapleton Hotel, April 10th & 11th, with the follow-up Workshop Traceability and the Real World on April 12th.

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