The blockchain is a digital register in which information is divided into blocks but is linked in chronological order.
In a normal database it is always possible to overwrite and (possibly) tamper with the data, instead within blockchain the information is written in closed blocks with a cryptographic key and with a certain date.
Furthermore, the information contained in these blocks is not stored on a single computer but is duplicated in hundreds of servers around the world. On the one hand, this system allows data to be stored more securely and on the other, each computer acts as a “validator”.
The idea behind the blockchain is to increase security and traceability since it is not possible to edit a single block of information but to insert a new one from time to time. Thus, the history of changes is not lost and it is possible to have a clear idea of the information chain consulted.
Blockchain technology was used for the first time with the birth of Bitcoins but over the years many experimental projects have been launched in very different areas. In Sweden, for example, an experiment on the registration of cadastral data is still ongoing.
Food supply chain and safety
The blockchain therefore works particularly well in all those sectors where the “product”, before reaching the consumer, goes through many processing steps. In the agrifood chain it is not difficult to hypothesise this sequence: producer, first carrier, transformer, packer, second carrier, wholesaler, third transporter and retail merchant.
If all the data are recorded on paper or digitally, it is sufficient for one of the actors to falsify a single data, for example the storage temperature, to provide the consumer with an altered and potentially harmful food. Moreover, it is more difficult to identify who forged the data.
The use of the blockchain in the agri-food chain guarantees safety and transparency because it provides an immutable register of all the steps that a certain product has undergone. This is an advantage for all participants in the supply chain, not just for consumers. A well-known case regards the Italian company Barilla which decided to use the blockchain to certify the Italian origin of the basil it uses in its sauces.
However, it is necessary to distinguish the difference between having the authentic data registered in the blockchain and their inalterability.
To reach maximum transparency in the agri-food chain, in fact, sensors are needed that can collect and independently insert data into the blockchain.
In addition to the use of sensors and drones, AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) technology is taking hold, able to analyse isotopes, in order to understand the geographical and biological origin of different food products.
By AMS you can distinguish natural and artificial flavours and check the country of origin of milk and oil. At any time, both customers and food re-sellers can rely on a transparent certification system.
In addition, the data can be analysed and processed to optimise production processes such as reducing the CO2 impact and the amount of water used to irrigate the fields.
This type of technology can help the recovery of production areas in difficulty. Just think of the “Land of fires” which has caused an image and economic damage not only to all agriculture in Campania but also to dairy production.
A path of rebirth and territorial enhancement could exploit these technologies to definitively win the trust of consumers.
Carrefour: the first food blockchain in Europe
In 2017 Emmanuel Delerm, project management specialist at Carrefour, starts a project for the experimentation of the blockchain to track data on the breeding of free-range pharaohs of Auvergne PGI.
Delerm and his team manage to provide their consumers with a transparent and accessible database containing all the information on the farm: from the name of the farmer to the feed used.
The project ended in mid-2018 but the success convinced Carrefour to continue with other products such as eggs and citrus fruits.
The blockchain of the Sicilian blood oranges consortium
In Italy, the Consortium of Sicilian blood oranges in collaboration with Almaviva started the R.O.U.G.E (Red Orange Upgrading Green Economy) project in 2019. It is a technological badge that is attached to fruit crates and enables to trace the entire supply chain. In this way the consumer has the opportunity to know the conditions and even the transport temperatures of the oranges.
Protect Made in Italy
The use of blockchain in the agri-food chain is not only related to food control and security system but also helps the producers themselves to protect themselves from fraud and counterfeiting. The fake Made in Italy according to Coldiretti causes an economic damage equal to 100 billion euros worldwide.
Over the years, entrepreneurs have experimented with many solutions: from holograms to RFID technology, but the blockchain seems to be the most promising and suitable for other areas. It is no coincidence that in 2019 the volume of business in the monitoring and control systems reached a value of 175 million euros. There has been a real blockchain boom that has doubled its numbers reaching 43% of the most used technologies.
The first blockchain recipe
Among the most innovative and original experiments of the blockchain one was performed thanks to the chef-entrepreneur Antonello Colonna. He conceived to use this technology for the first time to certify the recipe for Panzanella (typical Italian food made by bread). Through a system of cameras and sensors, users can “check” the parameters of the Torpedino tomato that is used in the recipe without being cooked. Customers who eat the dish can even receive digital or paper certification.