We've heard a lot of debate about free markets in this country lately. And while we're likely to be saturated with government-vs.-market arguments about health-care reform, IBM is quietly starting another free market battle of its own.
The company has been running "smarter planet" advertisements for several months, talking about smarter cities, smarter retail, smarter this and smarter that. The oversimplified gist is that IBM has the ability and technology to solve (or help solve) problems normally left to governments. One of these problems is food supply safety and management.
goal is not only to reduce food waste and shipping distance but also to
track food-borne illnesses in real time. Much of these efforts revolve
around radio-frequency identification (RFID) scanners, which IBM can manufacture for less than a penny a piece
and which "will reveal the origin,
delivery date, transportation mode, and destination" of any package.
The system is being tested by Norway after an E. coli
outbreak in 2006 that threatened its beef market.
Back here in America, would people
trust their food safety to IBM over the FDA? IBM just released a
study saying people already don't trust food sources: "Less than 20 percent of
consumers trust food companies to develop and sell food products that
are safe and healthy for themselves and their families" and "that 60 percent of consumers are concerned about the safety of
food they purchase."
The FDA hasn't been perfect but it also doesn't have IBM's budget. Big Blue is spending more than $50 billion on smarter planet initiatives. The FDA budget for 2008 was just over $2 billion. That's not being smarter, that's outspending.