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Data Trust technology aims to transform food supply chains, safety and traceability

30 April 2021

A new report by food industry researchers published by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), highlights the potential of a breakthrough technology to promote information exchange across food industry supply chains. 

The study – Food Data Trust: A framework for information sharing – produced in conjunction with the RCUK-funded Internet of Food Things Network Plus and led by the University of Lincoln, UK, examines innovation in the technology of data trusts. 

The term data trust can refer to a range of different data institutions – a general term for formal, often legally-based, structures for managing the sharing of data that protects privacy but enables benefits to be drawn from a collective approach. Unlike the pure data trust approach, which puts responsibility for pooled data firmly in the hands of legally-bound trustees, the trust framework approach leaves responsibility for data in the hands of owners defining rules and mechanisms for securely sharing and exchanging data.

A legal structure can then be developed to enable the sharing agreements to scale amongst a wider community. The data sharing framework approach is technology agnostic, so, practitioners may draw upon established technologies such as blockchain to store data.

With current challenges facing the food industry it is thought this new approach to using 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.

The researchers propose 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.

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 solution is a trust framework for data sharing among independent organisations rather than a managed trust responsible for pooled data. Because food supply chains comprise of multiple decentralised, diverse data collections, a framework is needed to control the way they might be linked temporarily, in specific, limited ways, to share information securely. It could also connect with regulators and other government departments needing to exchange secure and trustworthy data.

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

‘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 can be found at:

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