Blockchain will track how meat gets from Australian farms to Chinese tables

True Aussie beef.
True Aussie beef.
Image: Reuters/Issei Kato
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Last year, Chinese consumers got a chance to verify the goodness of the steaks coming to them from a local producer. Now they’ll be able to track their meat all way back to farms in Australia, one of the country’s major beef suppliers, thanks to the help of technology that makes it hard to tamper with information., China’s second-largest e-commerce site, is working with Australian exporter InterAgri to use blockchain to track the production and delivery of Black Angus beef. InterAgri sources meat from another Australian exporter, HW Greenham & Sons, which in turn will be sourcing from local farms in Victoria, Tasmania, and elsewhere, according to JD on March 2.

It’s the next step in efforts from JD to use the technology—which provides a mechanism for various parties to check and agree on a set of facts that can’t be changed after being recorded—to build trust among Chinese consumers shaken by years of food scares. Last May, JD piloted a similar blockchain trial for consumers in select Chinese cities, including capital Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, tracking meat from Chinese beef producer Kerchin. Working with the Inner Mongolia-based beef producer, JD allowed consumers to access detailed information, such as the cow’s breed, when it was slaughtered, and what bacteria testing it went through.

Chinese consumers’ confidence in food, especially when it’s domestically-produced, is low. That’s in large part due to the 2008 milk scandal, when six babies died after they consumed milk tainted with the chemical compound melamine. Today, the lack of information transparency due to the complex supply chain connecting producers, suppliers, and delivery companies also compounds distrust, and makes it hard to verify whether food scares rest on a foundation of fact or rumor.

The new project, which involves more parties than last year’s trial, could be a bigger challenge for JD.

The company said it would implement the tracking system in late spring, but didn’t reveal when exactly. It’s also unclear whether all Chinese consumers or just those from select cities, as in the case of the Kerchin pilot, will be able to access information. Quartz has reached out to both JD and InterAgri and will update the piece when we hear back.

Other tech giants and academic institutions are also quickly turning to blockchain in the hope to address consumer concerns. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer by sales, launched a blockchain-backed pilot project to track pork from Chinese farms to stores in October in Beijing. Both JD and Walmart are now working with IBM and China’s Tsinghua University to develop a standardized blockchain system for food tracking.