Last October, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation said it would invest $25 million over five years on projects to advance food safety in China, and on March 28, it celebrated the official opening of its new Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center in Beijing.
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Rebecca Lui, a spokesperson for Walmart, says that the retailer has teamed with IBM and Tsinghua University on a collaboration to improve the way food is tracked, transported, and sold to consumers across China.
“To put food safety to work, we need the whole industry to collaborate—from the suppliers to the distributors to the retailers,” she says. “By harnessing the power of blockchain technology designed to generate transparency and efficiency in supply chain recordkeeping, this work aims to help enhance the safety of food on the tables of Chinese consumers.”
Currently, the collaboration is conducting a pilot program of blockchain technology on safety issues surrounding pork, and it expects to release the results of that test later this year.
“As advocates of promoting greater transparency in the food system for Chinese consumers, we look forward to working with IBM and Tsinghua University to explore how blockchain might be used as an effective food traceability solution,” says Frank Yiannas, vice president of global food safety at Walmart. “We are excited to see this initiative born in China leading us into a new era of transparency.”
Earlier this year, China’s State Council released its 13th a Five-Year Plan for Food Safety, designed to review the status of China’s food safety during the 12th Five-Year Plan Period (2011-2015), and laying out four key objectives for the years ahead.
The objectives include aligning the country’s standards with international standards and launching a food safety risk alert system and a food importer/exporter reputation recording mechanism—both badly needed in the eyes of the global food safety industry.
China has numerous food safety and quality challenges that have eroded consumer confidence. There have been reports of exploding watermelons, recycled gutter oil used for cooking, and glow-in-the-dark pork, just for example.
Steven Kronenberg, an attorney on the Label Trial Team with the Veen Firm PC, San Francisco, Calif., says China has a long way to go to improve its food safety and quality as even global brands including branches of McDonald’s, Papa John’s, Burger King, Starbucks, KFC, and Pizza Hut all have experienced problems with local suppliers who sold them expired meat.
“Although the government fined and imprisoned those responsible, it has recognized the need to become more proactive instead of reactive,” he says. “China has adopted a five-year plan to improve food safety that focuses on testing, inspection, and improvement of food standards.”
Kronenberg believes the Walmart Foundation’s $25 million investment over five years is a big step in the right direction to improve food safety and quality in China.
“The company is attempting to determine the causes of foodborne illness so that stakeholders at all levels of production and distribution can work toward preventing problems,” he says. “By implementing a key emerging technology to enhance traceability, Walmart is providing an extra level of accountability to reduce food safety concerns.”
For things to really improve, more is needed to be done. Improving food safety and quality in China will require dedication from all stakeholders, a concerted effort from the government to improve testing and inspection, and long-term investment to maintain the expected gains.