What blockchain can teach you about the cow you are eating

Abbotsford’s Bakerview EcoDairy is trying out blockchain technology to track its cows, and bring more transparency to market.

Blockchain. You may have heard that word connected to things like Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. You probably haven’t heard it connected with your steak.

Abbotsford’s Bakerview EcoDairy is planning to change that by using blockchain technology to track information about an individual cow’s life, and then giving that information to the person buying its meat at the market.

The plan is to take the data collected by the EcoDairy and link it with other important information for each individual cow: the distance from the farm to the market, certificates from the butcher, the grade of beef (which is different for Angus and Wagyu beef). The linking will be done by using blockchain, a technology that chains discrete blocks of data chronologically in a way that is incredibly hard to hack.

(Blockchain does have its controversies, especially around the environmental impact of the computer power needed to maintain it, but that hasn’t stopped it from being a popular way to encrypt data.)

Ultimately, people purchasing meat from Hank’s Grass Fed Beef, the EcoDairy’s Angus herd, and HIRO Wagyu Beef, its Wagyu herd, will be able to see the blockchain data and learn about the life of the cow they are eating.

Spencer Serin, an agricultural consultant, is the one responsible for taking the project from the farm to an app. He said that consumers, particularly in restaurants or places like Vancouver, want to have a better connection to their food.

“You can create beef without monitoring all this stuff, and the product will be fantastic,” Serin said. “But there’s a real push right now for… the knowledge of where your food is coming from and why we do what we do on the farm. This is part of that overall goal of increased transparency.”

That transparency starts in the calf barn, with information gathered about the youngest members of the herd. The CalfCloud, which is used at the EcoDairy, collects data on its calves while they are fed from an automatic milk bottle that roams the barn. As the cattle mature, another application tracks their eating habits and weight gain.

All this data is useful for farmers. Farm managers are notified by the CalfCloud if certain calves aren’t drinking enough, which means the managers can spend time focusing on the calves who need the most help. Tracking weight gain for older cows means farmers can make decisions on whether they need to take the beef to market, or start feeding different kinds of food. But Serin thinks this data will also help create a better picture of the process for consumers who want to know the story behind the food on their plate.

How all this data will end up on an app, and exactly what consumers will be able to see, is still up in the air. The EcoDairy is only a month into its 3-year, $230,000 project and there’s still much to figure out.

“I don’t know how it’s going to look yet, truthfully,” Serin said. But the main goal is clear: to trace each animal’s life from barn to plate and make that information available to consumers at the click of a button.

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