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Walmart backs China food safety

News, 20 October 2016

BEIJING: Walmart, the US retail giant, is looking to introduce more transparency into the food chain system in China by teaming up with tech firm IBM and Tsinghua University.

The three organisations announced that they will collaborate to improve the way food is tracked, distributed and sold to consumers across the country, and much of their efforts will pivot around a new Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center.

According to Bloomberg, Walmart and its charitable foundation plans to invest $25m into food safety research in China, a country which has been rocked recently by a series of food safety scandals and where consumers frequently rank the issue as one of their top concerns.

"By bringing together the best food safety thinkers from across the food ecosystem, from farmers to suppliers, retailers to policy regulators, we'll accelerate food safety awareness and help make Chinese families safer and healthier," said Doug McMillon, Walmart CEO, at a press conference in Beijing.

Walmart's new research centre will bring together academic research and IBM's blockchain technology to help develop solutions for China's food supply chain.

Specifically, blockchain is said to provide an alternative to traditional paper tracking and manual inspection systems by keeping a permanent record of transactions, which are then grouped in blocks that cannot be altered.

The information gathered in each transaction is agreed by all members of the business network and it also helps individual retailers to improve their management of a product's shelf-life.

"Advanced technology has reached into so many aspects of modern life but it has lagged in food traceability, and in particular in creating more secure food supply chains," said Bridget van Kralingen, SVP of Industry Platforms at IBM.

"Food touches all of us, everywhere, so we are experimenting in China with Walmart and Tsinghua given the size and scale of food consumption in this country," she added.

"Tsinghua University is also committed to in-depth research of food safety – one of the most important areas that the world is focusing on," added Prof Chai Yueting of Tsinghua University. "We believe the work with IBM and Walmart can serve as a global model for others to follow and replicate."

Data sourced from Bloomberg, PR Newswire; additional content by Warc staff