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The technology could also boost consumer confidence about where foods come from

Food safety could be transformed by sharing commercially sensitive information in ‘data trust framework’

Tracing contaminated food, incorrect labelling and food fraud are among the problems that could be tackled by 'data trust framework' technology, according to a new report.

The report, published by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and co-authored by digital economists from the University of Exeter Business School, recommends using the breakthrough technology to allow businesses at all points in the food supply chain, from growers and manufacturers to retailers, to share selective in-house data safely.

They say sharing this data could significantly improve supply chain processes while also boosting consumer confidence about where foods come from, how sustainably they are sourced and whether they are what they say they are.

The data-sharing technology could also help expose and tackle problems from incorrect labelling and widespread food fraud to tracing contaminated food, as well as speed up product recalls.

The burgeoning technology of data trusts was recently described by the MIT Technology Review as one of the key technology breakthroughs of 2021 and ‘a glimpse into our collective future’.

The FSA report was produced in conjunction with the RCUK-funded Internet of Food Things Network Plus led by the University of Lincoln, and co-authored by Professor Roger Maull and Dr Phil Godsiff from the Initiative in the Digital Economy at Exeter (INDEX), part of the University of Exeter Business School.

Professor Maull said: “This is a powerful framework for understanding how data may be used for the common good.”

Professor Simon Pearson, Professor of Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln, added: “It’s easy to understand why businesses are reluctant to share such commercially sensitive information. No one wants to reveal their advantages to their competitors. But, in the data age, this reluctance is holding up much-needed advances.

“The data trust framework provides a structure under which data, including real-time and time-critical, ever-changing data, can be supplied to and held securely by independent and trusted repositories, with strong governance ensuring that data providers can trust that their data will only be used as specified while recipients of data and analysis can trust the accuracy and authenticity of what’s provided.”

Julie Pierce, Director of Wales, Information and Science at the Food Standards Agency said: “The food industry needs to be able to trust that if it exchanges vital knowledge to improve what it does, its sensitive knowledge will be secure. Governments and consumers need to be able to trust what the industry and individual companies are doing and telling them. The data trust framework aims to tackle both requirements.

The proposal is not a data trust itself but a mechanism to manage data trusts, which could connect with regulators and other government departments needing to exchange secure and trustworthy data.

It also has potential to connect with AI services to provide access to dynamic and fresh data in return for immediate AI-derived information that could benefit the participants in the supply chain.

The report includes a roadmap for achieving a data trust framework with a solution that brings together technological services, viable business models and a legally sound two-tier governance system.

It is accompanied by a full legal report that sets out the necessary collaboration agreements underpinning a data trust framework.

Food Data Trust: A framework for information sharing’ and the associated Food Data Trust: Legal, Structuring and Governance Report are published by the Food Standards Agency.

Date: 26 March 2021

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