Blockchain’s Latest Triumph: Mango Tracking

Do you know where these mangoes are from? Probably not, thanks to your primitive recordkeeping. But if you had blockchain, you'd know in 2.2 seconds!Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via ZUMA

This morning the LA Times greets me with this headline:

Could blockchain have solved the mystery of the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak?

Blockchain will get us to Mars! It will cure cancer! It will tell us where our lettuce came from! And not just lettuce:

Take mangoes. The increasingly popular fruit grows on small farms scattered across Latin America, and can harbor listeria, a bacterium that kills 260 people per year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two years ago, [Frank] Yiannas told his staff to trace a packet of sliced mango from a Walmart aisle the traditional way. “I looked at my clock and wrote down the time and date, and I timed them,” he said. “It took them six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes.”

But with Walmart’s new IBM blockchain-enabled system, Yiannas tracked the mango in 2.2 seconds!

This is ridiculous. The problem, as the article makes clear, is that right now a lot of this recordkeeping is done on paper. To speed it up you need to computerize everything in a common format, which is what IBM did. In other words, the reason Yiannas could perform a trackback test in 2.2 seconds has nothing to do with blockchain and everything to do with “cooperative partners agreeing on what information to contribute.”

That’s called EDI, and it’s been around since the 70s. To make it work, all you need is (a) agreement from every single person in your supply chain about how to encode the data, and (b) agreement from every single person in your supply chain to computerize their records using the appropriate ANSI standard. Using blockchain as one of the underlying encoding formats is an architectural choice, but there are dozens that probably work just as well. The hard part isn’t the formatting, it’s getting everyone to computerize their records.

But it’s blockchain! Whoop!

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.