The “Uberization” of the Agri-Food Traceability System

Traceability has surely been the most used word by actors of the agri-food system since the scandal of the horse meat sold by Ikea in 2013. Who does not remember the horse meat lasagna sold instead of meat lasagna by Findus to millions of consumers in 2013? Did you know that each year 1 in 10 people get ill due to food borne disease? (Aitken,2017) Agri-food actors tend to take as many risks as possible and lie sometimes in order to diminish their inputs and maximize their outputs, in other words being as capitalistic as possible. Hopefully, traceability systems have been put in place to avoid abuses, protect the public and find the origin of any problem in very brief delays. In terms of traceability, all types of food should be traceable through all stages of production, processing and distribution, where each party is  responsible for tracing the food one step back and one step forward (Jeppsson et al.2017).  According to Pizzuti et al, traceability systems must support both tracking and tracing, where tracking is used to keep record of the product at each stage, and tracing is the process of identifying the origin of a product, in other words, reconstructing the history of the data recorded by the tracking process.

Organizations such as Danone or Lactalis do possess such traceability systems in order to ensure good quality products to consumers and avoid the alteration of merchandises (Lactalis, 2017; Danone,2017).

However, many human errors occur and those tend to discredit the system. The collected data is currently audited by a third party and stored on paper files or in centralized databases (Jeppsson et al.,2017). Therefore, any ill-intentioned person could certainly modify, insert errors or hack the system which can make it irrelevant from a food-safety perspective.  However, stakeholders such as governments and consumers are asking for more transparency, defined as the disclosure of the information by Doorey (2011).

A new model, often compared to “the internet” is currently revolutionizing  information sharing and offer the opportunity to increase both the transparency and efficiency of our traceability systems. This technology is known as “Blockchain” and its best example is  Bitcoin. Many people compare  Blockchain technology with the well-known platform, Google docs. Blockchain technology stores data in blocks, in chronological order, and through a mathematical trapdoor (Brennan et al., 2016), the data stored in the blocks is impossible to alter or remove once it enters a block (Jeppsson et al.2017). Copies of the different blocks are made and thus the information is spread over the participants of the network. Moreover, blockchain technology allows  users to look at all transactions simultaneously and in real-time (Charlebois,2017).

This means that conversely to the actual system, the information is not stored at a single place and that is why in the agri-food industry, the potential is immense. This will allow a retailer to check with who his supplier has dealt with and by using a smartphone capable of reading a bar code, the consumers himself could trace a meat product right back to its source. The data available can include animal’s date of birth, use of antibiotics, vaccinations and where the livestock was harvested (Charlebois, 2017).

With this type of system, the origin of disorders such as the use of prohibited chemicals as it was the case for the “Honeygate” in 2013, can be immediately detected and can thus avoid food safety scandals. Moreover, as on average a food recall costs $10 million, this technology can avoid economic crisis and bankruptcies (FMI et al., 2010). Acknowledging the relevance of this technology, huge enterprises like Nestle or Uniliver are currently thinking about using it. Further, Walmart, one of the biggest food suppliers in Canada, just ran two blockchain pilot projects (Aitken,2017).  Nevertheless, from this matter spurs another debate, transparency versus confidentiality. Many elements and facts in the food industry have surely always been hidden from consumers and some of them must stayed confidential for commercial enterprises and legal understandings (Khan 2016) and a surplus of information could embarrass the client.

Therefore, uncovering that  much information can either “clean up” the system and boost the business or lead to the collapse of big companies  as they would not be ready for such a massive sharing of information.

As consumers always ask for transparency and disclosure of what they consume, Blockchain is a great opportunity to make this goal a reality and I strongly believe that it’s worth the investment.

Cyril Melikov


Aitken, R. (2018). Forbes Welcome. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan. 2018].

Brennan, C. and Lunn, W. (2018). Blockchain The Trusted Disrupter. Credit Suisse, [online] pp.1-20. Available at: [Accessed 6 Feb. 2018].

Charlebois, S. (2017). Blockchain, agrifood’s new Uber? – Food In Canada. [online] Food In Canada. Available at: [Accessed 1 Feb. 2018].

Danone (2017). How Danone makes milk producers part of its development strategy in emerging countries. [online] Down To Earth. Available at: [Accessed 6 Feb. 2018].

Doorey, D. (2011). The Transparent Supply Chain: from Resistance to Implementation at Nike and Levi-Strauss. Journal of Business Ethics, [online] 103(4), pp.587-603. Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan. 2018].

FMI ,  Deloitte (2010). Recall Execution Effectiveness: Collaborative Approaches to Improving Consumer Safety and Confidence. [online] FMI, GMA, Deloitte,GS1, pp.10-30. Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2018].


Jeppsson, A. and Olsson, O. (2017). Blockchains as a solution for traceability and transparency. [online] Lund: Lund University, pp.1-15. Available at: [Accessed 12 Jan. 2018].


Khan, F. (2016). Organization Transparency vs Confidentiality. [online] Linkedin. Available at: [Accessed 28 Jan. 2018].


Lactalis (2017). Quality management – Lactalis Ingredients. [online] Lactalis Ingredients. Available at: [Accessed 6 Feb. 2018].


Pizzuti, T. and Mirabelli, G. (2015). The Global Track&Trace System for food: General framework and functioning principles. Journal of Food Engineering, [online] 159, pp.16-35. Available at: [Accessed 1 Feb. 2018].

One response to “The “Uberization” of the Agri-Food Traceability System”

  1. mathieuouellet says:

    En premier lieu découragé à la lecture de ce texte, le dénouement m’a laissé surpris et excité. Les failles du système agroalimentaire en terme de traçabilité sont bien exposées à travers des exemples et des projections de problèmes futurs. J’ai particulièrement accroché lorsqu’il est question de personnes mal-intentionnées. C’est fou de penser qu’une seule personne, ou du moins un minorité, est tout ce que ça prend pour créer un scandale d’ampleur mondiale. Surtout étant donné que personne ne peut boycotter l’industrie agro-alimentaire, par nécessité biologique.

    Je ne m’attendais pas du tout à ce que la solution proposée soit le recours à la technologie Blockchain. J’en entends parler partout et en bien. Malgré qu’elle est encore difficile à conceptualiser, j’ai l’impression que là se trouve une espoir de rempart contre la capitalisme pûr dont il est question dans l’article. Un doute toutefois : un tel système de traçabilité devrait être imposé par une législation. Toutefois, les technologies Blockchain et les cryptomonnaies sont présentement identifiées, à tort ou a raison, par les gouvernements comme ennemie du bien public. On dit que le bitcoin est un mirage. Vrai ou pas, cette technologie est une menace directe au lobby financier, et avant que le gouvernement ne passe par dessus les arguments des plus grandes banques, il aura neigé en été. Je crois.

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