Cargill blockchain lets you get to know your Thanksgiving turkey


Just when you thought the blockchain mania could not possibly get weirder, Cargill has launched a blockchain project that will let some lucky consumers trace their main course’s journey from family farm to family table.  Seriously. 

turkey blockchainStarting earlier this month, Cargill, the agricultural giant and the largest privately owned company in the U.S. with close to $110 billion in revenue and 150,000 employees, began a pilot program selling blockchain-tracked Honeysuckle White brand turkeys in select supermarkets—mainly in Texas.

Each bird comes with an on-package code that you can text or enter at to access the farm’s location by state and county, view the family farm story, maybe see baby pictures of your very own turkey and read a message from the farmer.

It’s a great marketing gimmick for sure except maybe for people who aren’t thrilled at the prospect of looking at photos of happy living turkeys as a pile of turkey bones pile up on the family table. But Cargill and other agricultural and food companies increasingly see blockchain as an efficient way to track fruits, vegetables, and even turkeys from farm to truck to the supermarket to table, ideally adding a layer of safety and accountability to the food supply chain.  Deb Bauler, Cargill Protein’s chief information officer says:

Blockchain models build a trusted, transparent food chain that integrate key stakeholders into the supply chain and create a distributed ledger with immutable records. Because all participants inside the blockchain network must agree before a new record is added to a ledger, the technology also reduces the risk of fraud or human error, and cryptography within the network ensures security, authentication and integrity of transactions.

Blockchain also helps solve the agribusiness industry’s growing transparency problem as consumers increasingly demand increasing amounts of information about the food they eat, its origins and provenance.

Being able to provide a traceable history of food as it makes its way from farms to homes is not only valuable for identifying potential safety and other issues but it can be a competitive advantage in the age of the picky consumer.  Darrell Glaser, an independent farmer who raises about 600,000 birds a year for Cargill’s Honeysuckle White brand, and is among four Texas farmers participating in the market test, says:

What traceability does is just allow us to connect with the consumer. And I think over time there has been a disconnect. People have kind of lost where their food comes from and this is a way to re-establish that line of communication.

My take

Having grown up on a family hillside farm and involved directly in the deliverance of formerly live pigs, cows, chicken, and turkeys to the family table, I’m not that excited about reliving the details, but I can understand why consumers today feel disconnected from the process.

Agribusinesses have become so gigantic, concentrated and industrial that they are often seen as impersonal food factories. In the case of livestock producers, most are hidden from public view.  For many years, the industry has been consolidating and co-opting smaller farms to the point where there are fewer and fewer independents and real family farms.

The farm-to-table movement is mostly driven by people who want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced.  It is also a win for sustainable food advocates who have been promoting such connections as a way for farmers to market locally grown and raised foods.

The blockchain is potentially a powerful way to collect and harness the information that customers are demanding while introducing efficiencies and transparency into the supply chain. Cargill built the turkey test blockchain in-house.

Proof that Cargill is moving steadily toward a digital supply chain is its participation in Phase 1 proof-of-concept (POC) of IBM’s Shared Corporate Know Your Customer (KYC) project. That project was designed to prove that Blockchain-based IBM Shared KYC platform provides a secure, decentralized and efficient mechanism for banks to collect, validate, store, share, and refresh trusted KYC information of corporate customers. The point of KYC is to make sure that everyone in the blockchain can be trusted. In this case, IBM is building its own brand as a trusted custodian. Smart.

Endnote: I made up the part about being able to see childhood photos of your own turkey but you can see where this might go.



Image credit - composite image via dahowlett