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Blockchain helps raise reputations

11 May 2020

Espen Braathe, of IBM Food Trust Europe, explains how blockchain can help ensure traceability throughout the supply chain for farmed fish. 

Fish farms, or aquaculture, only really took off in the late 20th century and since then the industry has grown around 14-fold. 

However, juggling sustainable practices, local regulations and proof of quality through all parts of the seafood supply chain can be difficult. Regulators, food processors, buyers, suppliers and customers all need accurate and trusted information about the fish. The answer is a digital traceability solution, like blockchain, which creates an unalterable record of every detail about the fish - from the egg to the fishmonger’s case.

Aquaculture is haunted by its reputation as an under-regulated industry, over both time and geography. Consumers today are still wary of farm-raised seafood even as the industry booms., Before aquaculture entered global awareness, regulatory bodies lagged and fish farmers were allowed to use questionable techniques such as overcrowding their enclosures and spreading chemicals to keep their fish clean of parasites.

Many governments have now passed stricter guidelines for how farmed fish should be raised. While these increased regulations are good for the sustainability and reputability of the fish farming industry, challenges remain – one of which is making sure that guidelines are enforced and ensuring that those who follow the standards get credit for doing so.

In addition to the shadow of poor regulation, fish is also one of the most mislabeled foods. A study by Oceana, a marine conservation nonprofit, found that 20% of the fish it tested in the US was mislabeled. For example, a piece of trout farmed in Chile could be mislabeled as Norwegian salmon somewhere along the supply chain.

This kind of mislabeling usually happens in the middle of the supply chain, because distributors tend to collect fish and dilute high-quality fish with lower quality products in order to charge higher prices. This creates an issue of mistrust among customers and consumers who want to be sure that they are receiving fish of the quality that they are paying for.

Traced to source
Traceability solutions built on blockchain technology can assist with all of those challenges. Blockchain technology creates a permanent record of every entry on a ledger. By distributing the record-keeping functions of the ledger across several organisations, no individual has complete control over the data, which assures its trustability.

This means the regulators can issue licenses or record the results of inspections on the blockchain ledger in order to track critical information about fish farmers. And farm operators can use the same blockchain networks to record vital statistics about the fish they produce –including where they are located, when and what the fish were fed, when the fish were born, when they were harvested and what was done to preserve them for transport. That information can be passed on to food processors, distributors, grocers and eventually to the consumer to help build trust all along the supply chain.

Blockchain can also collect mass balancing information about exactly how much fish came from each location to ensure that every filet is properly labeled on its way from the farm to the customer.

As customers learn more about the options to buy farmed fish that have been raised sustainably and safely, they will want to see the proof that their fish meets those standards – again blockchain can provide this proof using a consumer app.

Regulation and fish raising practices in the aquaculture industry have gone a long way towards making fish one of the most sustainable and safest food sources. However, these advances only matter if everyone – from regulators to customers – can trust the information that travels with the fish. By enabling the entire ecosystem to benefit from greater trust, blockchain technology can help ensure a more sustainable food supply, both now and in the future. 

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