Singapore food safety on blockchain

Singapore is betting blockchain can cure its food safety crisis

The city-state imports more than 90% of its food, but more than one out of every eight shipments fails quality tests. Now, veriTAG is helping the government put things right

A cloud-based food traceability system built on the blockchain has secured a partnership with the Singapore Food Agency—and has bold plans to build a system that addresses “the ongoing food safety crisis plaguing Southeast Asia.”

VeriTAG said it hopes to rectify “critical problem areas” in the city-state’s supply chain. The importance of doing so is clear to see: Singapore imports more than 90% of its food.

Singapore food safety on blockchain
Singapore rejects too much imported food for failing safety standards (Photo: Pixabay/Jason Goh)

And right now, it seems that something is going badly wrong. Figures show that the Singapore Food Agency is continually finding produce that falls below industry standards. In the eight-month period from April to December 2019, 13% of the fruit and vegetables that were inspected by this government body failed quality tests because of “exceedingly high chemicals and/or pesticide residues.” Over the same timeframe, there were problems with incoming meat products, too.

According to veriTAG, the poor quality of imports suggests there’s a breakdown in the supply chain. Blockchain has quickly cultivated a reputation for delivering improvements—and the company believes this technology could help deliver some much-needed transparency.

VeriTAG’s CEO and founder Jason Lim was unflinching in describing how much of a critical issue this is.

“Food safety and security is not a farming problem or a manufacturing problem,” he said in an Aug. 27 release “It’s a problem that affects everyone.”

How it works

VeriTAG’s infrastructure has been developed using the NULS blockchain. The company’s offering features two distinctive elements.

The first is veriHUB, which focuses on food exports, while the second is veriSHOP, which is described as a blockchain-enabled loyalty program. Collectively, the goal is to deliver “end-to-end transparency from food manufacturing to point of sale.”

Unlike other food traceability platforms, which bank on the notion that shoppers will need little encouragement to scan a QR code and find out where their produce is from, the company intends to incentivize customers to take food safety seriously. Members of the public will be able to download an app, and every time this software is used to check an item’s provenance by scanning a tag, they will receive crypto-based tokens. This can subsequently be exchanged for NULS tokens, and then converted into Singapore’s currency.

All of this does sound rather fiddly—especially for a consumer who has never come across blockchain and cryptocurrencies before. But injecting the element of free money into the food safety space is a compelling way to get people to take their health and wellbeing seriously, and avoid items that could sicken themselves and their families.

VeriTAG’s infrastructure is set to become more prominent across Singapore in the not-too-distant future. Partnerships have already been struck by point-of-sale providers so the loyalty program can be rolled out across the city-state’s food and beverage sector, as well as in the retail market. 

We’re excited to be playing a role in such an impactful initiative,” said NULS core developer Mario Blacutt. “This partnership showcases that blockchain technology can truly be a conduit for social good and demonstrates the wide range of enterprise use cases.”

Modernizing the supply chain

At present, the process when produce fails the Singapore Food Agency’s inspections can be exceedingly disruptive—especially considering that blockchain allows these problems to be spotted far further back in the supply chain.

When a shipment is inadequate, the whole consignment is rejected—and importers are told to make things right with their supplier overseas. Those who illegally import food can face a fine of $50,000 Singaporean dollars (about $36,600) and even imprisonment for up to two years in the most egregious of circumstances.

All of this can result in good food being thrown out with the bad—an issue that other major manufacturers have acknowledged when publicly announcing their decision to move to blockchain.

Back in April, Dole announced that it will be using IBM Food Trust’s blockchain technology to ensure that all its products are fully traceable by 2025. In setting out its reasons for doing so, the giant food company said the technology would mean food safety investigations that used to take weeks would be completed in “mere seconds.” This would also stop tons of nutritious food from being destroyed for no reason, an exercise that ends up costing millions of dollars.

Other big players in this space include VeChain, which has started catering to well-heeled consumers in major Chinese cities by adding QR codes to pre-packaged premium pork. Scanning these tags transports consumers to a landing page where specific details are given about the meat’s origin, date of packaging, and journey along the supply chain.

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Connor Sephton is a journalist with an interest in cryptocurrencies, personal finance, and financial inclusion—as well as the challenges the crypto industry faces in achieving mainstream adoption. He owns cryptocurrencies.