The beef industry, and wider agricultural sector, has traditionally conducted business based on trust - the trust between producer and buyer that animals have been raised as claimed. As producers have expanded globally, that trust has been eroded as it becomes impossible for buyers to know their producers in the same way they used to. Food being bought in the US to be sold in Taiwan, for example, goes through so many stages on its journey that it is hard to assure its origin for certain. This has led to producers being unable to guarantee the provenance of their goods. It has also caused issues for restaurants, who struggle to guarantee the quality of the meat they server to their patrons.
Wyoming beef has been affected by this trend. Free-range Wyoming ranchers produce some of the highest-quality beef in the US, raising cattle free of the stressors that impact commodity cattle such as concentrated feeding operations. However, they fail to capture price premiums since their cattle is largely indistinguishable in the marketplace from commodity beef cattle as they are unable to guarantee it all the way from farm to fork.
Avery Dennison is helping to change this, in a partnership with Beefchain, the first company to ever place cattle into a Blockchain, and the Wyoming Business Council. This initiative will allow consumers to track the steak on their plate all the way back to the ranch that it was raised on. This gives ranchers greater control over the value of their sales by proving, via blockchain technology, that the beef they are selling is what they claim it is.
Securing value is vital for ranchers, especially in Wyoming. A calf can cost $900, and they often don’t sell for much more. It is estimated that there is an extra $500-$700 once the calf has left the ranch that the ranchers are not seeing. The Avery Dennison and Beefchain initiative could bring more of the value back to the ranchers and increase their profits. The potential for Wyoming is huge: with $1.1 billion in cattle sales in 2017, it could significantly bolster their economy. This, from the state that is only the 14th-largest producer, of beef in the United States.
Through the use of RFID tags, each beef case carries a unique digital identifier that can trace the individual case from farm to table. These identifiers will be hashed into Beefchain’s ethereum based blockchain network to provide the details of the entire global transaction.
The project began with a pilot that traced beef from Wyoming all the way to Taipei, in Taiwan. Once it had arrived at the restaurant, customers were able to scan a QR code connected to the unique RFID digital identifier that showed them the over 7,500-mile journey their steak had been on to reach their plate, providing assurances that they were enjoying high quality, blockchain-tracked, Wyoming-ranched beef. As well as this, the QR code was able to give more in-depth information, such as the exact ranch location, butchery information, and date of importation, all contributing to a more immersive dining experience. It has since started to roll out to other ranches and producers in other states.
The beef industry depends on quality, safety, and trust. Small buyers trust that the man they are doing business with is giving them what they are paying for. When it comes to larger companies, it becomes harder to secure trust and transparency when the relationship becomes faceless. Avery Dennison’s work with Beefchain points to blockchain’s ability to make provenance information available and ultimately restore that trust in both directions. This means ranchers gain the premiums they deserve for raising cattle in a sustainable way.