Food labels: certifying on Blockchain to fight fraud?

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In 2022, the multiplication of food scandals has put the question of the traceability of consumer products back on the agenda, and more specifically the labels that certify the quality of these products.

At a time when consumers plebiscite short circuits, the question of their confidence in certificates and labels has become essential. According to a 2021 LSA survey, 51% of consumers questioned are asking for better transparency on the origin and traceability of products sold.  

Unfortunately, these labels are not immune to fraud: according to a recent 2016 EUIPO study, the counterfeiting rate of PGI / PDO products is said to reach 10.3%.  

While blockchain technology seems to be the perfect tool to fight food label fraud, few trust infrastructures are currently able to offer robust, flexible and easy-to-use traceability solutions.  

How can Blockchain be used for greater transparency in product traceability?

Why is blockchain ideal for product traceability?

The blockchain is a decentralized register that records all transactions in chronological order. In this way, all transactions are publicly accessible and do not need to be validated by a central authority.

This makes it an ideal technology for tracking the origin of products because origin information can be stored in the blockchain and verified by anyone with access to it.  

On the principle, nothing very new, food companies have been working for a few years on anchoring food products data on private blockchains. The goal is to allow their consumers to verify the traceability of their products.  

While this use is interesting, it is not the most optimal for several reasons:  

  • The blockchains developed for this type of project are often private blockchains. A central authority (often agribusiness groups) wants to control its supply chain and will therefore control the anchoring of the data recorded on the blockchain. This type of governance is generally not suited to the scope of a transparency project across an entire supply chain.
  • All of the product data will be anchored in the blockchain (for a food product, the data on the domain name, the name of the producer, the production date, etc.). This type of anchoring is not the most efficient from a resource point of view because anchoring so much data is very energy consuming.  
  • The degree of complexity of such a large-scale project can quickly discourage all the players in the chain. Beyond the difficulty of understanding Blockchain technology, setting up efficient business processes to make a complete inventory of the products on the market at a given moment (for example, encouraging producers to fill in the product sheets in a clear and intuitive interface) is a task that can be chaotic.

Anchoring certificates and labels on a consortium blockchain: instructions for use

At Archipels, we have developed Archipels Certify. It is a solution for certifying documents and data on a private, permissioned blockchain. Thanks to this solution, we can directly certify the certificates of labels and thus ensure their authenticity.

Explanation of how Archipels Certify works

What are the advantages of this model?  

  • An autonomous, simple and complete anchoring: the anchoring on the Archipels blockchain is easily done thanks to an SDK that allows any company to generate its own data hash. Moreover, this data hash can be enhanced with contextual metadata for greater transparency (such as the issue/expiration date of a certificate or the identity of the producer who received it).
  • A guarantee of the identity of the issuing entity: thanks to the blockchain signature, it is easy to ensure the identity of the entity that anchored a data on the blockchain. This creates confidence in the production of the certificate.  
  • Multi-source data management: In complex industries where certification requires the involvement of multiple players, delegating the anchoring of certain data to trusted third parties to focus only on the overall control of the certification process frees up the time of business teams.
  • A consortium blockchain composed of trusted actors: unlike other private blockchains, which own the entire value chain, Archipels' blockchain is operated by Caisse des Dépôts, EDF, Engie and La Poste. When it comes to validating a transaction, it is therefore digital trust actors who ensure the anchoring, thus conferring a complete neutrality.

As we can see, anchoring documents or data on blockchain is not enough. Beyond the blockchain governance model, it is important to have flexible tools that can be managed in complete autonomy. But above all, additional functionalities are indispensable: the management of multi-source data, the anchoring of contextual metadata or the guarantee of the identity of the issuing organization are must-haves for any trust infrastructure.

Verifiability, how to simply ensure that certificates are authentic?  

While the certification of data or documents is the cornerstone of a trust process, it is unfortunately not sufficient. It must be accompanied by a proper verification system.  

Who would audit the certification process, if not the user himself? In the food industry, this user would be the final consumer who wants to be sure that the PGI or Label Rouge certificate is genuine.  

So what might the path of such an audit look like in the example we are exploring (see diagram above):  

1 - A supermarket customer is shopping and wonders about the authenticity of a food label on one of the products he wants to buy. Using his smartphone, he scans the product identifier (the barcode) to verify the authenticity of the label.

2 - The barcode is hashed. The hash is then sent to the Archipels blockchain via a verification API.

3 - The generated hash is compared with the hashes anchored on the different blocks. If there is a match, it means that the food label is not a fake and is therefore authentic.

This system can be used to verify any data, as long as the hash of the latter has been anchored in the blockchain beforehand. Beyond the quality label, we can check if the producer is certified or if the geographical location is the one indicated on the product label.

Coupled with a certification system that is as robust as it is flexible, the verifiability enabled by the Archipels platform allows any actor - an end consumer or a distributor who wishes to verify the identity of a producer - to verify a product or a process.

Certify on the blockchain to guarantee the authenticity of a certificate with Archipels Certify

While initiatives to use blockchain to trace certification processes in the agri-food sector have multiplied, they often face structural problems (the governance model of the blockchain used can add opacity) or the lack of flexibility and simplicity of existing infrastructures preventing widespread adoption...  

Archipels Certify has been designed on a consortium blockchain with tools adapted to business interfaces and features designed to facilitate the multi-source certification process. If you would like to discuss an Archipels Certify integration project adapted to your business needs, contact us!

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