An interview with Katalin Vereczkey of TE-FOOD International
Real efforts to increase traceability in our food system
Blockchain has immense power for good. It has the potential to remedy complex issues that affect humans on a global level. Our food system is one such problem blockchain has the ability to positively change. Our current food system is a network of disjointed people, processes, and parts. The lack of interconnectivity leads to food waste, health outbreaks, inefficiencies and an overall unsustainable system. With blockchain's capacities, we can increase transparency and develop a healthier, more productive and sustainable food system.
Wanting to get insights from someone working directly within this problem space, I reached out to Katalin Vereczkey, a Crop Expert at TE-FOOD International. TE-FOOD describes themselves as "a farm-to-table traceability solution, covering all logistics and food quality activities and data management of the supply chain. It provides cost-effective software and identification tools to make livestock and fresh food supply information transparent. TE-FOOD is the only fresh food ecosystem which integrates supply chain companies, consumers, and governments/authorities to improve food safety, eliminate food frauds, and decrease costs of the supply chain companies."
Upon discovering TE-FOOD and seeing the amazing mission they are on, I knew I had to speak with them. Katalin Vereczkey kindly accepted my inquiry to learn more about TE-FOOD and blockchain in the food system overall. Our email exchange is as follows:
Can you briefly describe your role at TE-FOOD?
I'm a crop expert, my role is to identify the critical points at traceability (on the farm, during process and transfer) to ensure proper tracing, and also to ensure to record all the quality influencing parameters. I'm responsible for the fruit and vegetable projects, I have a partner he is veterinary and he is responsible for the livestock.
What drew you to this working in this junction between food supply and blockchain?
I have worked for Syngenta for 18 years and gained massive experience in farming - good and bad practices. Now I'm sitting on the other side of the table. The food supply chain and the global food trade businesses are getting more and more complex. Therefore, the potential for foodborne diseases and the spread of pathogens around the world has become higher. The need for a transparent and trusted supply is evident. Actually, this was the connection between food supply and blockchain technology – the need for uneditable and transparent data for every member of the supply chain.
Since many people do not understand blockchain, how does TE-FOOD approach customer education?
Good question. I'm sure that most of our users don't know exactly what blockchain is. We operate via franchise partners and we provide them all the information they need to run the system on the local market. The developing and maintenance part will remain in Hungary.
The food supply chain has many layers and entities, what challenges are there in getting blockchain integrated throughout the many layers of this system?
It is a step by step introduction, we provide as much info as needed (for example, a guy in the slaughterhouse is not interested in blockchain at all) depending on the level of the hierarchy. By far the hardest part is the fight against those layers who are against transparency for different reasons.
How does TE-FOOD convince supply chain participants to cooperate?
Again, good question. As this type of traceability results in high transparency, the best case scenarios are: if it is a governmental introduction (like in Vietnam) or a private company asked it (HALAL project). We also help to identify the points in the processes where traceability has been blocked and work to overcome these issues.
How do the supply chain workers get properly trained for this very new and different technology?
The technology itself isn't visible for an average user. They just have to fill in the required part on the mobile app. The training itself is the same as any kind of IT implementation.
What are some of the key benefits producers, like cattle ranchers and farmers, will receive from blockchain integration into the food system?
A trusted source and transparency. We plan to provide them a tailored analysis to their farm, including production, processes, transport, suggestions, and if needed, involve more experts.
What regulation obstacles make it hard to bring blockchain tech into our food systems?
Blockchain has no issue. Our Te coin is not a cryptocurrency – it is a licensed smart contract.
How do consumer buying behaviors influence the need to bring blockchain tech into food systems?
Consumers like to be informed. Our main message: we have the right to know what we eat. This is not just a slogan, it is our message. We are part of a society that thinks we would like to control what we eat. Nevertheless, this is the future: a highly transparent food supply, for a better world.
What do you think the future of our food system will look like with traceability and trust at its core?
I think partly answered already, but definitely. This is the future. Funny that we are focusing on developing countries and it looks like they will have a transparent food supply quicker than in the developed countries (governmental introduction = mandatory usage). Also, the developing countries have far more foodborne illness cases, therefore the need for transparent food supply is increasing.
Getting to learn more about real work on this topic makes me hopeful – Hopeful for socially conscious technology, hopeful for society's willingness to change, and hopeful for an overall healthier world. While there's still a long road, TE-FOOD has proven there is a solution for our broken food system. And even more so, there is the ability to change complex systems that have global consequences.
Thank you so much to Katalin Vereczkey for taking the time to connect with me, and to the team at TE-FOOD for their admirable work.