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Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), such as blockchain, has the potential to transform supply chains. It can provide a cryptographically secure and immutable record of transactions and associated metadata (origin, contracts, process steps, environmental variations, microbial records, etc.) linked across whole supply chains. The ability to trace food items within and along a supply chain is legally required by all actors within the chain. It is critical to food safety, underpins trust and global food trade. However, current food traceability systems are not linked between all actors within the supply chain. Key metadata on the age and process history of a food is rarely transferred when a product is bought and sold through multiple steps within the chain. Herein, we examine the potential of massively scalable DLT to securely link the entire food supply chain, from producer to end user. Under such a paradigm, should a food safety or quality issue ever arise, authorized end users could instantly and accurately trace the origin and history of any particular food item. This novel and unparalleled technology could help underpin trust for the safety of all food, a critical component of global food security. In this paper, we investigate the (i) data requirements to develop DLT technology across whole supply chains, (ii) key challenges and barriers to optimizing the complete system, and (iii) potential impacts on production efficiency, legal compliance, access to global food markets and the safety of food. Our conclusion is that while DLT has the potential to transform food systems, this can only be fully realized through the global development and agreement on suitable data standards and governance. In addition, key technical issues need to be resolved including challenges with DLT scalability, privacy and data architectures.
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