The last ODI lunchtime lecture was on blockchains, and included an interesting slide.

ODI has been working with DEFRA on some form of blockchain for full accountability of the foodchain. A very welcome innovation, that will likely have a wide range of benefits, including (but not especially) to food safety.

Eventually, all regulated food supply chains, should be able to account for the contents of your plate from original source of all contributing parts, including the feed and fertilisers used. “Organic” should be provable, not just randomly assessed and so gamed. The entries are blocks, so that it is impossible to later claim that information was or wasn’t processed at the time that it was submitted. If it was submitted late (or not at all), it is entirely clear. There is no prospect for gaming.

The most interesting work in the supply chain blockchain field is done by provenance – while they talk about fashion – it’s easier to discuss about over lunch – their first example is food.

However, the supply chain is not a simple generic chain. There are levels of accountability that map to existing states and their courts..

That you assert some information to the UK Government, is legally different to that you assert it randomly on the internet somewhere. That difference is part of the culture of bitcoin – that it doesn’t need a state to back it. I imagine HMG would take a different view of their chains.

As a result, there will need to be a clear mechanism for interoperability between state chains, and the hierarchies that they represent.  Saying that this packet of bacon has an audit trail entry with a hash of 0x212345235 is one thing, is useful, but is also insufficient.

The UK’s food agency is different to the Danish food agency, and they are not likely to hand over complete control to some guys in shoreditch, even if they end up implementing it. And baconchain will, at some point, have to refer to entries in shopchain as it passes through the retail process, and swillchain which covers the food that those pigs were fed.

While all of those could be on a single international chain, that seems somewhat unlikely, purely due to jurisdictional issues, at least in the first instance.

Instead, it is much more likely that the audit log would refer to entry:

and they cross link via reference, including internationally (and organisations wishing more transparency can show more details, by reference to other public/industry chains). If you want to import bacon to the UK, you need a reference to the trail from where it was imported, and that can be automatically checked and audited by anyone.

The important part there is that the shows that this meets the UK Government’s standards. That if you wish to dispute facts within it, there is a UK Government endorsed process for doing so.

You may write the hashes of your audit trail to,,  or, but that’s an entirely different thing that you take up with the relevant market (and you can cross link the entries). There will hopefully be a race to the top for audit and quality.

For the blockchain community, this is likely to prove distinctly radical. But if you want to use information in a real world, it has to be backed by something.

For the blockchain skeptics, this is one place where a merkle tree just doesn’t cut it.

Mar 2016
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