(Written by @ElliotHill of the Cardano Foundation)
You might have read that reducing our meat consumption is one of the easiest ways to fight climate change and protect the environment in the short-term. However, a less-known but equally important measure is ensuring that the meat we do eat comes from sustainable and responsible sources.
In the past, this would have been a fairly simple task, as almost all of the produce we ate was produced, processed, and sold locally. But in the 21st century, where the global supply chain has shrunk our world, it is more difficult than ever to pinpoint where our food comes from.
Now, blockchain technology could hold the key to creating an effective traceability solution for our food supply, and perhaps even more crucially for our meat products.
Here, we explore what the issues are in the current cattle industry, discuss how tracing our meat from field to fork can empower primary producers, and discover how the Cardano blockchain and BeefChain are joining forces to make the beef supply chain more transparent.
Current issues with cattle farming
Why is it important to know where our food items come and why would tracking beef through the blockchain be particularly beneficial?
To start with, there is great variability in livestock farming methods. While there are many ways to cultivate crops, such as organic vs. conventional, or GMO vs. non-modified, the distinction between different farming techniques for livestock is even more profound, especially when we consider their impact on the world around us.
With such a huge focus on sustainability, grass-fed beef and open pasture cattle farming have seen huge consumer demand in recent years, mainly due to the intensity of land use required to rear cattle using other methods.
For small- or medium-scale ranchers, who take great care to rear their livestock humanely and sustainably on the open pasture, the environmental impacts can be greatly reduced. As a result, these ranchers can command a better price for their beef—in theory.
The trouble is, farming with care takes time and commitment, and it is difficult to prove. For example, as consumers, how do we tell the difference between a piece of grass-fed beef, from an intensively farmed one?
This issue has huge economic effects for honest ranchers. Recently concluded research of the U.S. beef supply chain concluded over a 20-year period found that there were over 400 cases of beef fraud, of which 42.9% was counterfeiting—passing off lower-grade meat as high-value breeds or forging farm-level credentials such as organic or grass-fed.
This type of fraud is notoriously difficult to track, as most of the responsibility for establishing the origin of meat lies with the primary producers—the farmers and ranchers—who often lack access to traceability solutions and technology.
As a result, the end customer’s purchasing decisions have to be made based on trust according to what it says on the packaging. Instead, a ‘Rancher-to-Retail’ approach is needed, where traceability begins with a rancher or farmer at an individual animal level and can be traced end-to-end throughout the supply chain. So, how can blockchain help achieve this?
BeefChain to the rescue
BeefChain is a Wyoming-based blockchain traceability solution that enables unique animal identification and ensures the origin of cattle and sheep. BeefChain’s technology is being trialed using almost 1,600 calves in a partnership with six family-owned ranches in Wyoming.
BeefChain uses RFID chips and internet of things (IoT) devices to track and upload unique information about individual cattle to the blockchain, providing verifiable credentials for the origin of beef products via blockchain technology.
These credentials could be easily tracked and verified during the whole supply chain, allowing consumers to easily scan a product in-store and reveal its origin down to the farm-level—ensuring that ethical standards are upheld and eliminating the risk of buying fraudulent products.
As a result, BeefChain could empower consumers to make informed decisions about their purchases, and perhaps even encourage consumers to purchase beef which has been tracked through BeefChain’s technology. In turn, this can increase sustainable farmers’ market-share and give them access to fairer prices.
BeefChain chose to work within the Cardano ecosystem in part due to IOHK’s close connections with Wyoming, but also to leverage the Atala TRACE supply-chain traceability solution built atop the Cardano blockchain. Atala TRACE empowers product owners to improve the visibility of their supply chain, bringing transparency to the end customer—rewarding primary producers who are committed to quality.
Compared to other traceability solutions, such as using QR-codes or RFID chips on their own, connecting to a blockchain solution stores the underlying supply chain information in an immutable and secure manner, making it incredibly difficult for bad actors to forge the credentials of a product.
You can find out more about BeefChain’s work with the Cardano ecosystem from IOHK’s Chief Commercial Officer Jerry Fragiskatos, and life-long rancher and BeefChain representative Tyler Lyndholm, in this session from the Shelley Virtual Summit 2020 edition.
The steaks are high!
As more of our food comes from further afield and consumers have less interaction with the primary producers, it is more important than ever to find a solution that effectively fights fraud and promises truly immutable traceability.
If you are interested in Ranch-to-Retail solutions, or you think there is a perfect industry ripe for a blockchain-based traceability solution, why not have your say below? Or, sign up to our Developer Portal waiting list, where you can find the tools and content you need to begin building solutions on Cardano.