Block chain; proving provenance

09 Oct 2017


How do you know that the product you are purchasing in a supermarket is what it says it is?

The label and brand on a product can tell you where it comes from and what it is made of, but that information is limited; you have no real way of verifying it, or knowing whether or not what is says is true. There are laws that require accurate label data, but in New Zealand things like the country of origin are not required on the label of food products. So how do we verify these claims?

Block chain technology may provide the answer. There are significant advantages to block chain, including being able to store large quantities of data, such as verification certificates from audits conducted along the supply chain. But its main advantage is that it cannot be hacked; in essence, the data is stored, securely sealed, and linked to previous data blocks.

To establish the provenance of a product in a supermarket, a QR code, NFC tag, or something similar could be used to access the block chain data about the product via a smart phone. This can include information about who grew the product, how and where it was grown, spray and fertiliser information, and any certification audits. Once the product is processed or packaged, further information can be saved in a block about those actions and attached to the previous block of data, creating a chain of data: a block chain.

So, in the future, a consumer will be able to gain information about a product, and be assured that those details are accurate, all while simply standing in a supermarket.

Block chain can also be applied to supply chain operations, as it is exceptionally resilient against cyber-attacks. This is because a copy of the essential shipping data at each point along the supply chain is stored on each node in a decentralised network of data nodes as a data block. This means that, even if one node is compromised, the data is distributed around all the nodes on the network and remains safe.

By using smart data techniques, a lot of this data can be automatically generated as the product passes through each point in the supply chain, and then stored across the decentralised network, resulting in accuracy, transparency, and reduced costs. The supply block chain can then be linked to the provenance block chain, so that for each product there is comprehensive, accurate data about the product, starting with the nursery where the plant was grown, through the entire life cycle of the product, on to and including its history in the supply chain.

The potential for small producers to use this as a cheap tool to prove the provenance of their products is enormous, because expensive marketing campaigns are not needed. Block chain may well become the new norm in the future.

- Mike Chapman, CEO