Big Food Litigation and Blockchain

Eager to curb foodborne-illness outbreaks, retail giants like Walmart and Albertsons are turning to blockchain technology [1] to track exactly where their foods are coming from. Blockchain, as compared to the eye-straining, paper-heavy tracking systems before it, allows retailers to trace the supply-chain history for a single food item within seconds.

For example, in a test case using IBM’s blockchain technology, Walmart traced the supply chain for two off-the-shelf mangoes randomly taken from one of its stores. Using conventional source-checking methods, it took them 7 days to do so. Through blockchain, however, they were able to track the entire supply chain in 2.2 seconds.  As one former Walmart executive, blockchain “allows us to see the whole chain in seconds! We [could] take a jar of baby food and see where it was manufactured and trace back all the ingredients to the farms!” Before blockchain, that simply would not have been feasible.

Given those efficiencies, several food giants are integrating blockchain technologies into their sourcing operations. Once scaled, blockchain-enabled traceability systems (like Hyperledger, for example) will help food retailers consolidate and better track food-related data from suppliers, inspectors, and others along what once was a convoluted, fractured tracking process.  And that level of transparency should, in turn,  assist food companies in identifying potentially contaminated food products and lead to quicker, more accurate food recall responses.

But aside from improving food safety, blockchain’s entry into the food manufacturing and processing arena should also have significant implications for food-related litigation, particularly in deceptive-labelling and antitrust price-fixing cases.

As we have covered in prior posts, deceptive advertising litigation has increased exponentially in recent years. Developments in case law, such as the Supreme Court’s decision in Pom…

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