In 2017 the global counterfeit market reached $1.2 trillion; global GDP, meanwhile, was $75 trillion. For comparison, the size of the counterfeit market is a little less than the GDP of Spain but more than the GDP of Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and the Netherlands.
Many of us struggle to understand the scale of the counterfeit market. I did not think much of it for a long time either, until several years ago I went to Kuala Lumpur, where I was stunned by its street watch market. It is enormous. It covers several streets and offers a great variety, from watches that are indistinguishable from the authentic ones (and cost almost as much) to $5 fakes that only distantly remind one of the originals and do not work.
Honestly, I do not care. Who cares about bags, shoes, cosmetics and watches that cost a fortune just because they have become a status symbol? Certainly, stakeholders of luxury brands should, but actually many seem to agree with me: luxury brands have been struggling for the last several years to keep their shares afloat.
It is different with medicine and food. Here I want to be sure that the migraine or insomnia medication that I take is genuine, and the steak I order at my favorite restaurant does not come from a stock of beef that has been frozen for the last 50 years.
But I can’t be sure that I buy genuine medicine. Do you remember the fake cancer drug scandal in the US in 2012? Globally, counterfeit medicine kills an estimated 1 million people a year. According to the World Health Organization, around 10% of medicines around the world are counterfeit and in some countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa this rate is as high as 30%.
Patients and doctors often can’t tell the difference between authentic and fake medicine because criminals duplicate everything so well – from packaging to product shape and taste.
Online pharmacies are just another side of the same problem. In some countries they are notorious for their lack of transparency, and are considered the mostly likely candidates to sell counterfeit drugs. In other countries, online pharmacies ask no questions when customers use one and the same prescription to buy a dangerous amount of their medication, often becoming addicted to it.
Hopefully, the status quo will soon change. Pistoia Alliance estimates that more than 80% of pharmacy chains will adopt blockchain technology within five years to track the movement of drugs. Blockchain tech. will ensure the safety and security of the product, because each transaction will be noted and remembered by the blockchain.
The FDA has been tracking drug shipments for some time already using special software, but blockchain is expected to make those operations far more efficient.
The UK’s fastest growing online pharmacy, UK Meds, has entered an agreement to use blockchain solutions to prevent patients from making multiple orders. UK Meds handles around 4,000 patient prescriptions each day, and some addicts manage to cheat the system, the company says. Using blockchain technology, it will be able to create a unique identifier for each patient: this will prevent them from buying too many drugs.
In Wyoming ranchers have begun to assign blockchain-facilitated tags to their calves (the price is $5 per tag). Wyoming is home to 2.1 million cows, and in 2017 its ranches generated $1.1 billion in cattle sales. With blockchain, information about what the cattle eats, what type of vaccines it has received, and if it was ever sick will be accessible to consumers. Consumers will benefit from this new transparency in a number of different ways.
This solution is offered by a blockchain startup called Beefchain.io. It hopes that as soon as in 2019 consumers will be able to go to a store, scan a QR code and track the farm conditions of the beef they buy. So far six Wyoming ranches (out of 2,100) have partnered with Beefchain: local farmers hope that it will help to increase the value of their cattle by up to 20%.
There are already several tracking partnerships in the agricultural sector: IBM Food Trust, Walmart, Carrefour’s traceability program for its premium farm products and Subway, who is currently testing a blockchain traceability project.