Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the United States, and to celebrate many families around the country enjoyed a feast, which almost certainly included turkey. I was surprised to learn recently that way back in 1621, when the pilgrims and Native Americans enjoyed the first Thanksgiving, they ate hearty helpings of venison, but they might not have had turkey at all.
Fast forward to 2017, when agricultural giant Cargill is testing blockchain on its turkeys this holiday season. According to the Wall Street Journal, Cargill aims to allow some consumers who buy the company’s Honeysuckle White brand to trace the turkeys from the store to the farm that raised them.
Blockchain “structures data into a series of records that can’t be changed or removed,” Jacob Bunge writes for the newspaper. “The cloud-based data can be shared across a network of computers, and securely added to by various participants.”
Bunge reports that food companies especially are interested in blockchain technology for more efficient track and trace. Currently, they must rely on records kept on various software systems and, sometimes, in paper form. Blockchain could enable standardized and immediate data between ingredient suppliers, food manufacturers, distributors, retailers and food-service companies.
“It’s bringing the digital supply chain to life,” said Debra Bauler, chief information officer for Cargill’s North American protein business in the Wall Street Journal.
It’s not just food companies seeking blockchain technology. Some experts contend that blockchain could become a fundamental for all supply chains.
Consider “Blockchain: Harnessing Data, Enabling the Future IoSC [Internet of Supply Chains],” posted last month on the APICS Thinking Supply Chain blog. Authors Lars Magnusson, Thomas Gaal, and Ray Ernenwein suggest that blockchain is the technology that enables the IoSC.
“Within a blockchain, transactions are chronologically recorded in a local, digital ledger. The ledger doesn’t exist in just one place. Instead, copies exist with and are simultaneously updated with every fully participating entity in the ecosystem,” Magnusson, Gaal, and Ernenwein write. “The most recent set of transactions is known as a block, and each block is hashed and linked with previous blocks. The distributed, interconnected nature of the blocks is what enables the data to form an immutable chain.”
However, there are some challenges to this new technology. Magnusson, Gaal, and Ernenwein point to the lack of blockchain solution platforms. Even more pressing is data security in this truly networked business environment. Nevertheless, experts expect the benefits to outweigh the challenges. Cargill’s test with its Honeysuckle White brand turkey might be consumers’ first interaction with blockchain and beyond the pilgrim’s wildest dreams, but the technology likely will spread quickly among supply chains.