Modern supply chains are incredibly complex. It’s unlikely that the food you ate today arrived on your plate straight from the farm or fishery. It probably travelled through various different businesses along the way – it certainly went to a packager and retailer at least, before it was picked up by you.
In such an elaborate supply chain, the consumer must trust what the packaging of a product says. “Wild caught Alaskan salmon” shouldn’t come from a fish farm in South Korea, for example. How can you be sure it didn’t though?
The answer, for now, is you can’t.
The fishing industry is particularly bad for such fraudulent food labelling. According to an article by Forbes, a report conducted between 2010 and 2012 by a leading marine surveying organisation, Oceana, identified that as many as one in three seafood products in the United States were incorrectly labelled. What’s more, some operations have even replaced what is presumed real seafood with chemically created “fish” products.
However, there is an even deeper problem in the fishing industry. Incidents of illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing that take no notice of over-fishing legislation are also rife. A second report cited by the Forbes article states that such incidences of “IUU” fishing cost the industry over $10 billion each year. This figure was calculated a few years ago now and, as such, could be far greater today.
Previous efforts to tackle such fraudulent and illegal practices have largely failed. One initiative, Sea to Table, sought to take on the problem. However, it transpired that the group were guilty of passing off fraudulent seafood themselves – exactly what they’d set out to combat.
However, blockchain technology could easily make such shady operations a thing of the past. Using supply chain management software and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, it’s possible to monitor each stage of a fish’s transit. If one of these sensors was attached to a product at the point it was caught, its location, breed, and date of catch could be logged onto an immutable public blockchain.
This data would allow for seafood products to be checked for their legitimacy at each stage of the supply chain, ensuring that no one was ripped off along the way. This approach is much like the one piloted by the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) earlier this summer for beef production.
What’s more, such sensors could even log additional details such as temperature. This way the end consumer could be sure that their dinner had never been warm enough to allow harmful bacteria to form on its surface.
The likes of VeChain and HyperLedger are already experimenting with such supply chain management solutions. In fact, HyperLedger actually has a division that is dedicated to monitoring sustainable fishing. This department is called Sawtooth.
Thanks to such projects, it will soon be possible to identify every point of the supply chain that a product had been through. This would make it much more difficult for scam artists to pass off their line-caught, Scottish rainbow trout for anything but what it is.