Chinese e-tailing powerhouse JD.com said Thursday it is extending its alliance with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and IBM Corp. with an effort to use blockchain software technology to improve its ability to track food shipments in China and handle recalls, and to boost consumer confidence.
The partners will create a "Blockchain Food Safety Alliance" in collaboration with China's Tsinghua University through the school's National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies, JD said. The initiative is intended to deliver greater transparency across the food supply chain and to enhance food tracking, traceability, and safety in China, JD said.
Food suppliers, regulators, and consumers have long struggled to track exactly how food is handled between farms and consumers, blaming error-prone, paper-based data sharing systems, JD said. To combat that challenge, the four partners hope to create a new method of collecting data about the origin, safety, and authenticity of food, using blockchain technology to provide real-time traceability throughout the supply chain, the company said.
Blockchain technology supports secure transactions for applications in finance, transportation, and supply chain. Blockchain provides an indelible "distributed ledger" of transactions that ensures data cannot be tampered with. That promise has drawn the attention of a growing number of logistics industry players, including standards organizations such as the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA—formerly known as the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance) and the Trusted IoT Alliance.
"Blockchain holds incredible promise in delivering the transparency that is needed to help promote food safety across the whole supply chain," Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president for IBM Industry Platforms, said in a statement. "By expanding our food safety work with Wal-Mart and Tsinghua University in China, and adding new collaborators like JD.com, the technology brings traceability and transparency to a broader network of food supply chain participants."
Walmart had earlier announced an alliance with IBM and Tsinghua University in 2016, when the firms began research on applying blockchain technology to food shipments in China. The partners extended that consortium in 2017 with a pilot that tested the ability of blockchain to trace pork in China and mangoes in the U.S. as they moved from farm fields to store shelves.