Walimai – Protecting Food with Blockchain Technology
Regular readers will know that here at IDLogiq, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways of using blockchain technology to ensure the integrity of supply chains. Today we’ll be looking at Walimai, and how their anti-counterfeiting labels are changing the game on protecting food.
Let’s start at the beginning. Alexander Busarov was a normal guy who loved his cat, Gulchatai. To save some money, he was buying Gulchatai’s food from Taobao, which is basically a Chinese version of eBay. Eventually, Gulchatai wound up needing medical attention for acute gastroenteritis (thankfully she recovered), but Busarov was concerned about the legitimacy of food, both for pets and for people. After reading about incidents involving fake rice and fake eggs, as well as rat meat being sold as sheep and dozens of people being hospitalized after drinking methanol-laced whiskey, he teamed up with Yaroslav Belinskiy and founded Walimai, a company which makes anti-counterfeiting labels for food.
According to an excellent overview over at CNET, the Walimai labels are bands with RFID chips inside. The straps themselves also contain antennae, which communicate with any device that has the Walimai app – mostly cell phones. The labels are scanned whenever the product changes hands, and the device scanning them ensures that what’s being scanned is what’s being sold. The chip also contains information about manufacture, such as date and place, as well as everywhere it’s been beforehand. This is not stored on the chip, however. It’s stored in the Walimai blockchain ledger. Once it’s there, it can’t be overwritten, and there’s no computer that can be hacked to change it. Every device that scans the chip is recorded, and errors are picked up almost instantly. The labels have unique codes, so there’s no way to counterfeit them. Whenever a customer makes a scan, they can access the entire history of each package. Finally, once the band is broken, the antenna is destroyed along with it. This ensures that the package remains sealed with the Walimai band until it’s ready to be used by a consumer.
Here is a video showcasing the technology!
There is a downside to all of this, of course. At the moment, the bands can make food cost up to 20% more than it did previously. The new technology, as well as the actual electronic equipment in the bands, cheap as it is, is still more money than some are willing to spend. However, the idea is catching on in China, where food fraud is perhaps most rampant. Many customers are willing to pay the extra price for the peace of mind that their food is genuine. Somewhat surprisingly, the most positive reactions to Walimai were in rural and out of the way areas, though that could be because food fraud is typically worse there than in more urban areas. Besides, the alternative is importing food and that is even more expensive. Parents were doing this primarily for baby food and formula. There was a well-known incident in which six infants died from tainted formula and ever since then, many people weren’t taking a chance with locally produced food for their children.
Ultimately, these are stopgaps for a global issue which traces its roots throughout history. According to Dr. Geoff Allen, chief executive of the Asia Pacific Centre for Food Integrity, “Food fraud is present around the world and has been since food commerce has existed.” That doesn’t mean that we’re willing to sit down and let it happen. Companies like Walimai represent the future in protecting ourselves, our children, and our pets from harmful foods. Here at IDLogiq, we applaud their efforts and are working hard to be at the forefront of protecting supply chains using blockchain technology.