Strengthening The Food Chain with a Blockchain
A publicly accessible authentication and tracking system
Produce Authenticity Log [PAL]
The blockchain in this scenario is used as a simple global tracking system to facilitate the logistics and authentication of global produce. It is not an alternative to existing logistics and supply chain mechanisms, nor is it a smart contract or payment system; but a ledger in which the produce is the unit of currency and the Blockchain the means to authenticate the origin and destination of the produce. In particular it would set out to achieve the following goals:
- Authenticate and track the distribution of agricultural produce across the globe in real time.
- Provide a secure, robust and publicly available record authenticating the origin, method of production and subsequent route from farm gate to shop shelf.
- Provide a mechanism to prevent mislabelling of foods as organic, fair traded or originating from a country other than stated.
- Facilitate the management of import licenses and the issuing of standards and certificates.
The Concept of PAL
A PAL is created by a node running the blockchain [and placed in a parent wallet]
An amount to reflect the value (qty) of the produce is allocated to a portion of the PAL.
This portion is moved into a consignment wallet.
The PAL is then ‘called’ by the wallets in the Supply and Retail chains.
Every movement of the PAL being called (initiated) by the recipient rather than the sender as the produce moves along the supply chain. The end customer will then be able to use the PAL to authenticate produce origin and transport history.
Once created a portion of the PAL, equivalent to the produce volume, is sent to a ‘consignment wallet’ with any unused portion of the PAL remaining in the parent wallet. The portion of the PAL now in the consignment wallet can be transferred out by trusted wallets in the supply chain. This is repeated as the PAL follows the produce along the supply chain. If the produce is split and sent along different supply routes the PAL too can be split to follow the destination of everything that left the farm gate.
The PAL is ‘called’ by the recipient wallets in the Supply and Retail chains rather than sent by the Consignment wallet as both an anti-spam measure and a mechanism to aid the fluid ‘unhindered’ distribution of produce.
Benefits of PAL
Data linked to producer/regulatory organisations, supply and retailer chains to provide:
- Full audit trail of produce to authenticate it’s origin and production standards.
- Transnational, cross operator tracking independent of all the operators who use it.
- Global statistics on food production and consumption.
- Identify points of failure, such as unnecessary delay or excessive wastage/losses.
- Log precise time goods transfer occurred.
- Help source origin and routes of a pest or disease outbreak. (*including human pandemics, i.e ebola)
A node could create fake logs with the intention of spamming the system, however it would need access to a supply chain of trusted wallets to call the log. Without such a route any PAL created would remain in the parent wallet of the node. A rogue node could still set about producing millions of PAL’s, potentially threatening scalability and operability. A limit in the rate at which a node could produce a PAL to one every 5 seconds would limit a node to 6.5 million PAL creations in a year: A year in which the node would need to be maintaining the blockchain; consume energy and securing the network in the process, in order to produce a six million innocuous entries.
No smart contracts
A smart contract is an executable command that is triggered by conditions in the blockchain being met… it may trigger a payment or some other action following an event or set of events occurring in the block chain. In more common parlance this would be referred to as ‘automatic’ rather than a smart payment or action. However smart contracts are inflexible they do not allow for changing plans and being hard coded run the risk of becoming recursive monsters, triggering actions and payments, long after the relevant entities have expired. Once written into the blockchain it is impossible to change the action of a smart contract without having to change the entire ledger. This does not preclude executable commands (smart contract) working with blockchains but the two can (and likely should) be distinct entities with the blockchain providing the authentication mechanism for an application to read and then execute a command.