According to the University of Wyoming, blockchain technology developed by a computer science student could change the way food is shipped and tracked across the globe.
Kip DeCastro, a UW student from Casper majoring in computer science, and Philip Schlump of the Wyoming-based company BeefChain, developed a blockchain code to track a December 2018 shipment of Wyoming beef to Taiwan, according to a Feb. 7 UW press release.
Blockchain is a system in which a record of transactions is maintained across a network of linked computers, allowing for safe and secure data transmission.
Shipment tracking systems already widely used by companies like UPS are outdated and susceptible to systemic failure and fraud. In 2010, the FBI estimatedthat shipping fraud accounted for $30 billion in stolen goods annually in the U.S. UPS filed a blockchain package tracking system patentin August 2018 to address these problems.
According to BeefChain’s website, the company has already partnered with six multi-generational Wyoming ranches and tagged nearly 1,600 calves with unique radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. These “first-in-the-world” blockchain calves, totaling over 500,000 pound of high quality Wyoming Certified Beef, will be ready for delivery in early fall of 2019.
Blockchain tracking using RFID tags can establish secure end-to-end supply chain documentation to better capture the free range, grass-fed, premium guarantee made by participating beef ranchers. BeefChain calls this solution “Rancher to Retail.”
As well as helping the state’s ranchers command more value from their beef by proving that their products are free range and fairly farmed, the system also gives consumers assurances that the products are safe.
According to the release, Rob Jennings, BeefChain’s founder and CEO, said the December beef shipment was the first to be tracked on blockchain from the United States to Asia.
“The University of Wyoming was integral in making this trial shipment a success,” Jennings said in the release. “As a combined effort of the Department of Computer Science, and the colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Business, this project highlighted the strengths of each department and their faculty and graduates. We look forward to working with the university as BeefChain continues to grow.”
This first shipment of beef was raised at Murraymere Farms,in Powell. It was placed in cases with RFID labels and sent to a five-star dining establishment in Taipei, Taiwan. The labels featured a unique digital identifier that enabled the cases of beef to be tracked along the entire supply chain, from plant processing, export, import, and to the restaurant.
UW attributes this achievement to the work of the Department of Computer Science, BeefChain, the Wyoming Business Council, and Avery Dennison, a global company specializing in adhesive technologies and packaging materials which provided the radio-frequency identification (RFID) labels.
“RFID is setting the foundations for blockchain integration in the food industry,” Avery Dennison RFID Vice President and General Manager Francisco Melo said in the release. “Enabling farmers and businesses to guarantee the provenance of a product will mean greater improvements for food safety, product differentiation, and enhanced consumer experience.”