Do You Like Raspberries?
Initial and erroneous reporting on a Wuhan wet market renewed a focus on food supply chain management, or FSCM. The virus episode reminds us that reputations of food value chain partners—vendors, transport providers, governments, buyers, and retailers—can and will be severely damaged by any food chain fail.
Twenty-three million people get sick from unsafe food annually, and about 5,000 die, reports the World Health Organization. With a global focus on the virus, organic products growing more popular, and governments failing to ensure safety at the source and destination, consumers demand more insight into the source of their food.
Before the pandemic, Zebra Technologies conducted the "Closing the Trust Gap: Technology and the Food Supply Chain" study, which found that across 13 different types of companies and brands within the supply chain, from distribution centers and warehouses to grocery stores, only 37% of food industry leaders place complete trust in the industry when it comes to safety while 80% of consumers do not have complete trust in the safety of what they eat.
According to Zebra's survey, here are the risks associated with food safety:
- Businesses connected to food safety fails may be forced to stop selling their products, creating a devastating financial impact up and down the supply chain.
- Brands are destroyed as a safety incident spreads forever on social media and the internet around the globe.
- Individual or class-action legal woes ensue.
- Regulations are increasingly enforced, up to and including tariffs and fines.
- Insidious guilt by association, as your current and future partners distance themselves from you—even if you are only tangentially connected to the food fail.
An exhaustive Reuters article entitled "Raspberry Racket" laid bare the ways in which businesses and consumers are at risk from bad actors in the food value chain. It relates how low-cost frozen berries exported from China were shipped through a middleman in New Zealand to a packing plant in South America. Hundreds of tons of raspberries were then labeled as premium South American-grown organics and sold to consumers in Canada and around the world at a large profit.
IBM has made great strides in applying blockchain solutions to FSCM. But blockchain use calls for artificial intelligence (AI) applications. The volume of supply chain data that U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) deals with has skyrocketed since piloting blockchain. Only AI can make sense of it all in real time, offering CBP advice on what to interdict. Blockchain applications and identification technology increase transparency and traceability, possibly eliminating events like the raspberry racket.
Governments and customs entities need to do more. Until then, honest players in the food chain need to protect themselves and their trusted partners before the market gives you a raspberry.