Chinese tech firms adopt blockchain, big data to resist virus

By GT staff reporters Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/13 18:10:30

An employee moves boxes of black tiger shrimp for sale in a supermarket in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province on Thursday. The boxes of shrimp, imported from Thailand, are linked to QR codes which enable customers to track the movements of the products. Photos: cnsphoto

As the overseas pandemic situation remains grave, China faces increasing pressure to prevent imported cases. Particularly, recent reports of frozen pork, lamb, beef, shrimp and fish products testing positive for COVID-19 in over a dozen regions across China have raised widespread concerns over the risks of infection through cold chain trade due to its long supply chain and virus-friendly environment.

How to conduct large-scale screening of cold-chain meat and seafood supplies to plug virus-containment loopholes becomes a challenging job for many nations in the world.

At the moment, Chinese tech companies are rushing to come up with a variety of solutions to help with tracking problematic imported cold chain foods, using technologies such as blockchain and cloud computing.

Last Thursday, Alibaba Cloud formally launched a self-developed cold chain tracking system, which, based on the AntChain product Provenance solution, provides information including the record of cold food storage, the main body of the cold chain, the inflow and outflow of cold chain food and the production and sale of different types of cold chain foods.

It covers imported cold chain products including seafood and meat, the company told the Global Times in an interview. Also on Thursday, 10 boxes of black tiger shrimp imported from Thailand were linked to a QR code in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province. It was the first code generated using the province's tracking platform for imported cold-chain food.

Zhejiang Province adopted the system as early as June this year, followed by Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province in November, and Hubei Province in December. "More cities are in the pipeline," a source close to the matter told the Global Times.

Alibaba said the system has helped Chinese local governments to curb the spread of the virus in the country.

A batch of frozen pork imported from Argentina tested positive for COVID-19 in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province, on November 13. As the supply chain information for the pork had been updated in the cold chain food tracking system, the local health authorities tracked the information of importers, related quarantine certificates and transportation vehicles to ensure a lockdown on the goods in a short time so that the contaminated products did not enter the market.

Aside from Alibaba, other tech companies are coming up with their own solutions. Recently, Tencent Cloud also launched a cold-chain food tracing platform that combines both the "identity certification" of frozen food and that of workers involved. By scanning the relevant QR code, information about the product source, flow and contacts can all be found out. 

To ensure that no-one is able to distort the information, Tencent Cloud applied blockchain technology to make the system safer and more credible. The platform has been implemented in regions including South China's Hainan Province and Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province.

As a large port that imports frozen food, Shenzhen has served as a centralized supervision center for frozen products since August. Before being stored, sold or processed in the city, all imported frozen food products arriving in Shenzhen must undergo a disinfection process, with samples taken for nucleic acid testing and all products traceable.

Shenzhen-based Ping An Smart City launched a centralized supervision system for the center, covering over 6,600 warehouses in the city. By mid-November, a total of 72,792 tons of imported frozen products had been stored in the center and a total of 95,062 samples had undergone nucleic acid tests, the company told the Global Times on Sunday. It said the big data technology has helped exclude 56 batches of frozen products susceptible to contamination, and intercepted a batch of samples that was tested positive.


Unified platform needed

However, despite the launch of various frozen food tracing platforms in China's varied provinces, industry practitioners, especially importers, are still faced with the difficulty of selling imported frozen products due to lack of a unified platform.

"The release of a tracing platform is of benefit to the industry, as it refrains from suspending the whole industry because of sporadic frozen product infections," a Beijing-based frozen food importer, who refused to be named, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"But we hope all local authorities can recognize each other's imported frozen food trading platforms so that importers don't have to load information repeatedly," the importer said. He said he has imported over 100 containers of frozen food for the upcoming Chinese Spring Festival holiday, but sales are still blocked in some regions due to the above-mentioned reason.

The State Administration for Market Regulation held a meeting on December 1, announcing the launch of a national imported cold-chain food tracing and management platform to realize inter-provincial data sharing. Nine provinces and municipalities have been connected to the platform, essentially realizing whole-chain trading from entering customs to retailers, and to restaurants.

The importer said that the coronavirus outbreak is an opportunity for the imported cold chain industry. "Our country's cold supply logistics industry develops fast in a short period and falls behind developed economies like the US and Japan in standardization. I believe our cold chain logistics will quickly grow after this pandemic."

Chinese customs has vowed that it will further enhance inspection on cold-chain imported foods in a bid to prevent the risk of imported COVID-19 infections as winter approaches.

Two beef producers from Brazil and one from Argentina have had their exports to China suspended for one week, after packaging of their products tested positive for traces of COVID-19, customs said on Friday.

As of November 11, China had suspended 99 overseas companies' exports from 20 countries with employees infected with COVID-19, of which 82 companies have voluntarily suspended exports to China after the outbreak.

Newspaper headline: Building a health code for frozen food


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