In China, You Can Track Your Chicken On–You Guessed It–The Blockchain
To guarantee customers that their chickens are actually free-range, Gogochicken is tracking them with an ankle bracelet and putting the information online.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
If you buy a free-range chicken in the U.S., it’s often hard to be sure that the chicken ever went outside. No farm inspections are required to make the claim, and some companies with certifications–including a Whole Foods supplier–have been accused of selling “free range” birds that were raised on factory farms. In China, now consumers who want to feel good about their chickens have another option: free-range and organic birds raised with an anklet that tracks and reports every aspect of their lives.
“All info related to the chicken can be verified in the blockchain,” says Xuefeng Li, CTO of ZhongAn Technology, the tech incubator of the Chinese insurance company ZhongAn, which developed the technology. The chicken’s age and location, how far it walks each day, air pollution, the quality of the water it drinks, when it’s quarantined, when it’s slaughtered, and other details, are all recorded in the blockchain, the same secure digital ledger used in cryptocurrency transactions.
The meticulous detail of the product, called Gogochicken, is designed to appeal to Chinese consumers who have dealt with a long series of food safety scandals. Suppliers in China have been caught selling rotten and decades-old meat, meat soaked in bleach, rat meat disguised as lamb, and expired meat. Food safety regularly ranks as a top concern.
Technology, the company says, could help rebuild trust by documenting the origins of a particular food. “It’s difficult for ordinary consumers to distinguish a captive chicken and a free-range chicken,” Li says. Free-range chickens, which grow more slowly (four to six months, versus 45 days for a regular chicken) and require more space on a farm, are more expensive to raise; suppliers often mislabel regular chicken as free range to get a premium. China’s growing middle class is willing to spend more for free-range or organic chicken, but want to know that they’re buying the real thing.
As an insurance company, ZhongAn recognized that its authentication and traceability system could also help reduce risk for companies that finance and insure farms by providing better data. “The rural market is huge, and the rural financial market is huge as well . . . the agriculture industry has a lack of data accumulation, so it is costly and risky to carry out financial activities,” Li says.
The company started with chicken because of the scale of the market–7 billion chickens are sold each year in China–and because the current tracking equipment works well with chicken, unlike with ducks, for example, which fly and go in the water. But it says that the technology can be expanded to cattle, sheep, pigs, and other livestock, and similar traceability can be applied to crops like tomatoes or watermelons.
Others are also using the blockchain to track food in China. JD.com, an e-commerce platform, traces the production and delivery of beef...
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