A report published by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) is proposing a breakthrough technology to promote information exchange across supply chains that may further support consumer confidence in food safety, origins and authenticity.

‘Food Data Trust: A framework for information sharing’, produced in conjunction with the RCUK-funded Internet of Food Things Network Plus led by the University of Lincoln, recommends the latest innovation in the burgeoning technology of data trusts, recently described by the highly respected MIT Technology Review as one of the key technology breakthroughs of 2021 and ‘a glimpse into our collective future’.

The proposal is for a data trust framework under which businesses at all points in the food supply chain, from growers and manufacturers to retailers, might safely share selective in-house data. Such data could significantly improve supply chain processes while also boosting consumer confidence about where foods come from, how sustainably they’re sourced and whether they are what they say they are.

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.”

Professor Simon Pearson, Professor of Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln, said: “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. Sharing data in a secure and limited way can help to expose and tackle problems from incorrect labelling and widespread food fraud to tracing contaminated food, as well as speeding up product recalls.

“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.”

Importantly, the framework is not a data trust itself: it is a mechanism to manage data trusts, which might be decentralised, diverse data collections, and to control the way they might be linked temporarily, in specific, limited ways, to share information securely. It could connect with regulators and other government departments needing to exchange secure and trustworthy data.

Professor Roger Maull, University of Exeter, said “This is a powerful framework for understanding how data may be used for the common good.”

Even more promising is its 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 interconnected participants in the supply chain.

The report includes a roadmap for getting there 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, written by Pinsent Masons, that sets out the necessary collaboration agreements underpinning a data trust framework.

Andrew McMillan, Head of Technology & Digital Markets at Pinsent Masons said:

“The secure and selective sharing of data is critical in further creating and advancing opportunities for societal, economic and environmental good. Even though the value of data is uncontroversial, many organisations could do more to maximise the value they derive from data they hold. They will only do so, however, within a trusted framework for data-sharing and this is where we have focused our efforts – to assist in designing and implementing a robust and efficient framework that will allow industry to realise the true value of its data.”

‘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.
More information on their website.