An X-ray and AI scanner finds holes and needles

The Australian strawberry industry has been hit by ‘sabotage’ this year: recent weeks consumers have over a 100 times found large needles stuck into the berries. To ensure the confidence in Australian berries, the producers have therefore begun to control strawberries for export with X-ray. X-ray inspection of food
is an old and well-established technology, but today you have to develop unique solutions for each product to be able to test for different errors. For example, one solution is used to find out if a potato is hollow, while an other solution is used to find out if cold cuts are contaminated with metal shavings. Therefore, X-ray inspection today is preferably used on expensive products with known types of errors – or to sabotaged strawberries.

But people behind a new Danish project, are working on a solution, where food will be able to be scanned with cheaper all-round inspection machines in the future. The Danish project will develop a new dynamic X-ray technology that can continuously vary the X-ray energy of the device and choose the right camera technology. By adding artificial intelligence, the goal is to eliminate the need to develop unique software solutions for each product, and instead enable the system to automatically distinguish good products from contaminated.

The system chooses by itself!

“We develop artificial intelligence algorithms that can choose the optimum x-ray power and right camera with the right resolution. This means that we can control many different types of food without changing the inspection system”, says Brian Vinter, professor at Niels Bohr Institutet. Aarhus-based Magnatek is responsible for the development of a new type X-ray source, while QTechnology from Copenhagen is developing cameras for the project. Newtec Engineering in Odense is responsible for system integration, and Niels Bohr Institute is heading the software development.
The Danish Technological Institute will  validate the final solution, and the project has a total budget of 17 million DKK. “One of the big challenges is to get X-ray sources and cameras to communicate with our algorithm at very high speeds. For example, we work on detecting hollow potatoes, which needs to inspect 22 tonnes per hour. Our plan is to try to make a hardware solution, so image recognition takes place directly in FPGA chips, so we do not have to have a large server standing between production lines, “says Brian Vinter. When an X-ray inspection system can handle many types of food, the price will also be lower. Therefore, Brian Winter hopes that on the long-term, inspection systems like this also can find their way to supermarkets, to make extra quality checks before the goods arrive on the shelves.

If you want to read about a company that are applying AI on food production lines, then read this interview with Rufus from Sensomind

Original article from https://ing.dk/ 

Photo by Johnny Martínez on Unsplash

Could Blockchain help to Build a More Ethical Food System?

Article by Ryan Whibbs PhD, George Brown College

In recent months, discussion about potential applications for blockchain technology has exploded. Nearly every major sector of the economy has at least some parties examining how blockchain might be applied in finance, supply chain management, manufacturing, education, government, security, and even in food systems. Key to many of these discussions are questions about data: what information is significant? To whom? How can it be used? Who can access it? When it comes to the role of food in highly dynamic, information-driven societies, the answers to these questions can be complex.

In a recent article posted on LinkedIn, Offering Manager for IBM Blockchain, John Widdifield, outlined the problem insofar as coffee is concerned: “we typically delegate the responsibility of knowing a product’s origin to the organization from which it was purchased. However, the organization itself is often unaware of the product’s origin and unable to verify any existing knowledge. Consequently, there are significant challenges in trust and transparency across the complete supply chain for coffee and other products.” Indeed, although proponents of sustainable food systems have made strides in increasing awareness of the interconnectedness of macro-level food systems, consumers are often still in the dark when it comes to product origin, production locale, labour conditions, and transit itineraries and timelines.

For many chefs and consumers, supporting an ethical food system is an ideal that they strive toward. Very often, discourses among chefs stress the need for local and sustainable ingredients, waste reduction, and resource conservation in order to lessen the foodservice industry’s environmental impact. The ideal exists; the degree to which these discourses result in tangible effects is something that requires more nuanced research.

In fact, any movement toward a more carbon-neutral, sustainable ingredient selection requires a good deal of constant research. In the restaurant industry, chefs and purchasers do much of the connecting with suppliers, while in the grocery sector consumers usually leave this research to brands themselves. Still, suppliers change and unless chefs, purchasers, and consumers are prepared to do constant research for the same ingredient every time they purchase it, they may or may not be achieving sustainable ideals that they set out for themselves. Especially when one considers colder northern climates where imported perishables are necessary, separation between consumer and producer is accepted and rarely recognized.

The major problem here is transparency. How do I know that the lettuce I bought is actually local? Is it produced on an industrial farm, or is it from a family farm? If these are important factors to me –and they are to many– I may decide to go to retailers who offer access to product information that helps to verify product source and production conditions. Sustainable eating could, with much effort, become sustainable shopping.

With much effort? Yes. Chefs and buyers seeking specific ingredients from specific sources invest hundreds of hours each year into research about product origin, supply chain, producer, and production capacity. Still, product substitutions and changes happen continually, so even they find it difficult to keep on top of current market conditions. Domestic consumers at the grocery store have even fewer options given that they must select from what is available at the time. No one has time to trace every product they eat.

This is one of the most exciting potentials that a food blockchain holds. In much the same way as it does with cryptocurrency, a food blockchain would capture and hold data associated with a food item, and allow consumers access to this data when seeking to trace or verify information about safety, product origin, product quality, or even to geolocate and map the journey an item took to your table. At the beginning of 2017, almost no one was mentioning the connection between blockchain and food. By the end of 2018, investment in food blockchain technology will easily have eclipsed investment in developing any other food data technologies. It seems that, shortly, the food blockchain will be at our doorsteps.

Still, whereas questions about environmental sustainability are often front-of-mind, questions about social sustainability can lag behind. Who produced this? How much were they paid? Is it a living wage in their region? Many consumers are asking these questions, in addition to questions about environmental impacts. Along this vein, a passage in Widdifield’s article caught my attention: “One of the biggest problems facing coffee plantations are lack of worker documentation, non-existent labor contracts and forced labor or low pay. When plantations utilize forced labor, one of the first things they seek to do is erase documentation associated with the workers; as such, the first step in addressing this problem is to document the workers. Once each worker has trusted identification [TI] represented on the blockchain, plantation owners can then create and record a labor contract that specifies information such as payment terms, expected work hours or output, contract length and labor conditions. Workers can then receive payment digitally, of which the receipt is automatically recorded to the blockchain and payment confirmation is shared with organizations downstream.” Therefore, the technology will exist for consumers -even those who live in cold climates that depend on long-distance imports- to learn more about the people who produced their food. Whether governments force compliance or not will likely impact greatly on the strength of TI. Sustainably-minded consumers, however, will likely demand this information in the future, and retailers and restaurants seeking to attract eco-consumers will undoubtably find ways to leverage this data.

One wonders, though, how restaurant consumers will access this information, and through what filters? Suppose a restaurant customer wants to order a low-carbon, socially and environmentally sustainable meal. How will they be able to verify this information? Will it be possible? Will that be up to the restaurant, or will there be a credible third party who can somehow assist customers in accessing this data? Are there innovations being planned to help foodservice customers acquire more transparency about the food on their plate, independent or at least arms-length from the restaurant operator? As well, will TI extend to restaurant workers closer to home? Can restaurants who wish to add this level of traceability and transparency to their operating ethos be able to do so? It seems that this would be key to the system maintaining credibility in the public eye.

Certainly blockchain has potential to fill one of the major gaps that currently exists in sustainable food system movements. Access to impartial information is exactly what so many consumers invest time and money into achieving. With blockchain, much of the important data -even living conditions of workers- could be demanded by consumers. Without such demands, retailers and operators will likely control information flow. However, if the system is to maintain widespread credibility for both consumers and producers, it will be important for developers to establish ways for consumers to access product information independent of vendors.

Bio of Ryan Whibbs PhD

Experienced Professor with a demonstrated record of interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship in the fields of Food Studies, Cultural History, and Culinary Arts. Skilled in Research Design, Lecturing, Curriculum Development, Academic Writing, and Copy Editing, Dr. Whibbs co-developed and coordinates Canada’s only Culinary Arts undergraduate degree program: the B.Comm. (Culinary Management) program at George Brown College. A Subject Matter Expert advising on the newly revised Provincial Cook Apprenticeship Curriculum of the Ontario College of Trades, Dr. Whibbs also possesses extensive project management and foodservice management experience.

Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Unsplash

Tiger shrimps produced under outrageous conditions in Vietnam

Tiger shrimps in Danish supermarkets is produced under outrageous conditions in Vietnam. 17 hour shifts at the assembly line and chlorine gas leaves workers with chronic, physical disorders. Supermarkets claim they did not know about the conditions.

37-year-old Ngoc Anh is working 83 hours a week on average, pealing shrimp at a Vietnamese shrimp factory. She has chronic sinusitis due to vapors from the chlorine at the factory and her body aches from dragging heavy boxes of shrimps that are sold to Danish consumers in supermarkets such as Rema 1000, Føtex and Netto.

Shrimp workers suffer from chronic sinusitis due to the hard assembly line work, they are sent home for days of fatigue and dehydration, and every month employees faint at the factories. These are the workers who help to secure Vietnam’s booming industry of tiger shrimps.

Overuse of antibiotics on shrimp farms

Over the past twenty years, global demand for tiger shrimps has led to an intensified shrimp production in Vietnam and this has led to diseases in the dams. This is why antibiotics have been mass-fed to healthy as well as shrimp with diseases.

Therefore Danwatch asked The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to test 13 different packs of frozen shrimps in their laboratory. All were shrimps bought in Danish supermarkets and produced in Vietnam.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration found antibiotic residues in 3 out of 13 packs – more specifically in Coop’s Kæmperejer, Planets Pride Vannamei Shrimp (sold in Meny) and Crown Seafood’s Ocean Delight (sold in Nemlig.com).
All samples were below The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s limit values, and the governing body therefore sees no need to follow up.

Antibiotic residues constitutes a problem

Still, every finding of antibiotic residues in food is problematic, says Hans Jørn Kolmos, professor, MD in Clinical Microbiology at The University of Southern Denmark.

“This could lead to increasing treatment difficulties. The more resistance, the more difficult the infections are to treat, the more people die from it. That’s the very elementary calculation”, he says.

Niels Frimodt-Møller, professor, MD in Clinical Microbiology at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, also estimates that overuse of antibiotics can have global consequences:

“Resistance is spreading in southern Europe, Africa and Asia and it is happening with a greater speed than new antibiotics is being produced. Especially in India, China and Africa there has been bad examples. This all boils down to not controlling the use of antibiotics, “says Niels Frimodt-Møller.

Supermarkets will scrutinize the problems

2.500 tonnes of shrimps was last year imported to Denmark. Of this, about 50 tonnes of prawns ended in Coops stores and 70 tonnes of prawns in Rema 1000 stores.

Danwatch has presented the findings of poor working conditions and overuse of antibiotics to supermarkets and importers. They all say they did not know about the problems before Danwatch contacted them. This even though they all have control mechanisms in place to prevent it from taking place.

Kasper Reggelsen, Media Relations Manager, Salling Group, writes in an email:

“What is being presented here does not match our Code of Conduct, and we have already started a dialogue with our supplier to ask for an explanation.”

Similarly, Kristian Lauge Jørgensen, Director of the shrimp importer Company Lauge Seafood Selection writes in a reply to Danwatch:

“In collaboration with the producer, we will follow up on the conditions you refer to, regarding the social conditions of the companies you have visited. It is important to ensure that employees have organized working conditions that complies with applicable rules in the area”.

 

Original article here:

https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/vietnamese-workers-get-chronical-diseases-from-pealing-shrimp-for-danish-supermarkets/ 

 

Photo by Kaitlin Dowis on Unsplash

#YouAreWhatYouEat

In many countries, especially here in Denmark and EU, we don´t have to worry about when we get the next meal. Many of us have the possibility to pick and chose what we want to eat, and when. So in the age of self-realization, we can now use tech to make sure that we eat healthy, or least try to.

“One quarter of what you eat keeps you alive. The other three-quarters keeps your doctor alive” – Source unkown

Eating healthy starts with understanding what you’re eating on a frequent basis, but we all know that tracking what you eat, and trying to determine the nutritional information of certain meals requires a significant amount of effort. And a lot of data handling. So companies are developing apps and new tech, to let you monitor our own health. Many of these products are still in their infancy, so the data collected have to be taken with a grain of salt, but they offer an important glimpse into the future of self-regulation and personal health management.

Why is this important in the light of transparency?

If we can monitor what our body, with precision, consumes of sugar, pesticides, non-organic etc, it will have a reverse effect. When Millennials adopt health apps, that will make them much more interested in knowing the source of their food. With a never growing population of consumers with food allergies, they are demanding a clear information about reliable information. And with the growing interest in sustainable, organic, and local food, there is a pressure from consumers that value eating organic and/or sustainable, on the industry, to ensure that it really is organic, or sustainable.

“If everything is known, if it is known what is inside a product and its health effect on the body, that will really be a big change in the industry as we know it” – Nard Clabbers, Senior Business Developer at TNO

One of the companies trying to deliver precise transparent meal nutritional content is AVA. AVA uses artificial intelligence to allow users to take a photo, with their smartphone, of their meal to get instant information about the meal´s nutritional content. This is just one example, with other tech companies and startups applying blockchain, machine learning (ML), big data, argumented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

Next week, you can read more about AVA and the tech companies and startups that are paving the way for more transparency of the food we eat. It might not be the companies business models, but it will be great side-effect with the focus on personal nutrition.

Sources:

https://medium.com/@sirianbrady/introducing-ava-and-intelligent-eating-224b0f9be826

Book: Our Food Our Future – Eat better, waste less, share more; (2017) Alan Watkins & Matt Simister.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Top 3 foods with hightest environmental footprint

Climate change is getting real, and agriculture is one of the largest sources of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide.

But when it comes to their “carbon footprint,” not all foods are created equal. So here is a Top 3 with the highest carbon footprint, and a visual overview of all foods with the highest carbon footprint. This is so you are aware, and have this in mind, when you put your food in the basket. An easy way to bypass this, is to buy as local as possible.

Top 3

  1.  39.2 kg of CO2.                                                                                                       You thought is was beef, but sorry lamb lovers. Eating a kilo of lamb is equivalent to driving about 90 miles or 145 km! In the US a massive 50% of lamb is imported, so a lot of the carbon footprint comes from shipping. But the main contribution is the animals’ digestion, their feed, manure management and other farm operations.
  2. 27 kg of CO2
    The sinner we all know (or should know) is beef. Cows produce a lot of methane (a potent greenhouse gas), and also require a lot of water and land. Especially in South America, a lot of rainforest have been eliminated, to make way for huge farms for the never ending urge for for beef.
  3. 13.5 kg of CO2
    And maybe the joker here, is cheese. Cheese is also a major CO2 contributor. Only a small fraction of cheese is imported to the US, but that accounts for half of all the carbon emissions from cheese.

 

Source: https://bit.ly/2Ek9hPL

 

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-top-10-foods-with-the-biggest-environmental-footprint-2015-9?r=UK&IR=T&IR=T

https://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/

Book: Our Food Our Future – Eat better, waste less, share more; (2017) Alan Watkins & Matt Simister.

Photo by Leon Ephraïm on Unsplash

Bologna – A 360 degree focus on food at FICO World

Me (Kristoffer) and my girlfriend, Nina, had planned our easter vacation destination. Italy! Visiting a few places in Tuscany, and Bologna a bit more north-east. We wanted to visit Bologna, due to being the “food capital” of Italy. And we were not disappointed.

We ate at many different restaurants during our short stay, and tried to eat out, as much as possible. One restaurant we highly can recommend is Ristorante Pizzeria La Brace, where I had their delicious swordfish and Nina had fresh pasta with a variety of seafood. Fantastic meal!

Besides all the restaurants, we also visited the local food markets on Via Pescherie Vecchie and Mercato delle Erbe. I also wanted to visit the newly built FICO Eataly World, a agri-food park few kilometers outside of central Bologna. We had no idea what to expect, since I stumbled upon it when googling “what to do in Bologna”.

It was a massive place, with a combination of food stalls, playground, learning areas, food courses, animals and supermarket. You can easily get lost in all the lovely smells and colors of the rainbow, when walking through the wine area, or the olive oil area.

I can go on and on, but what I like about this place is the 360 degree focus on food. It started with plants, bees and animals outside the building. Here you can, e.g. read about the animals, learn where you food comes from, what it eats and so on (mostly for kids, I guess 😃). Then you walk inside and see the produce in action. Most of the food shops have mini-production sites at FICO, where you can, just like in a zoo, watch workers make the products, which you can taste and buy a few feet away. I applaud this form of transparency!

This was also the same for the restaurants, where you look directly into the kitchen and watch the chefs do their magic. Many of the restaurants also had a “how it’s made”, either on the menu or as big illustrations on the wall. Again, to inform the visitors of what they are putting in their mouths.

Part of the experience was also interactive installations about food, courses on food, and as the picture below shows, talks about different aspects of food production.

So their tagline of “You have seen them being made, you have tasted them in our restaurants… why don’t you take them home with you?”, holds true, at least the first and second part, as we didn’t buy anything, since we had to drive to Piombino in the afternoon. All in all a very interesting place to visit, so if you are interested in food do spend some hours at FICO World.

Ciao!

Interview – Founder of SensoMind, Rufus Blas

We love the new technologies here at MyFoodTrust, of course in relation to improving the current lack of transparency. Last week we talked to Daniel from Bext360, and their use of blockchain and AI. Today we focus on AI again, which we find super interesting as a tool for food transparency, so it was a no brainer to do a interview with Rufus from SensoMind.

Read here, how SensoMind have applied AI to create a system to detect anomalies in food products and what role AI will play in creating transparency in food supply chains in the future.

Can you start with telling us a little about yourself and SensoMind?Hi, my name is Rufus. I’ve been involved in AI ever since I studied at MIT in 2004 at their Artificial Intelligence Lab. I hold both a PhD and an MBA and have a passion for innovation management and entrepreneurship. Previously I worked a lot with perception for self-driving vehicles in agriculture. I founded Sensomind with my partner in 2016 in order to democratize AI and get it out to the masses.  We’ve built our own set of tools around top AI products such as Googles Tensorflow which we thought at the time were too much targetting data scientists and not enough the engineers that are out in the field today. Our core competencies lie in analysis of complex sensor data. This is available in abundance in manufacturing so is one reason why we have gotten into this industry.

Rufus Blas
Sounds interesting, but can Sensomind’s AI technology be applied on food?
We’ve been working extensively with food manufacturing customers where our technology can be used for quality monitoring and sorting of food products. Most of our solutions are based on optical sensors (Such as cameras and multi-spectral imaging). Vision technology has been around in the food industry for 10-20 years but it’s been very difficult to apply it to food products with organic shapes and high variety. Examples include monitoring breads, meat, and fruits & vegetables. With AI you can teach the system just be showing it examples which opens up for completely new applications. An example can be automating the cutting of meat.  The price of a final product has a large influence on the cutting being done correctly and it can be very difficult using traditional computer vision to recognize exactly where to cut.
And in relation to that, can Sensomind’s technology help tackle the problem of, e.g. food contamination or unapproved enhancements/additives in food?
So we have a system to detect anomalies which can for example detect contaminants. In the food industry we have used this to detect contaminants such as bone fragments, metal, plastic, and other objects which shouldn’t be there. Unlike a human operator, our system never tires. Unapproved additives is difficult to detect using traditional color cameras so here we work with spectrometers or multi-spectral cameras. Using traditional computer vision an engineer would normally sit and try to make a model for different additives based on a pre-conceived notion of what to look for. AI allows a more statistic and data-driven approach which reduces the chance of unapproved additives making it through the production undetected.
In your opinion, what role does new technologies, e.g. AI, play in creating transparency in food supply chains?
Supply chains are notoriously difficult to model because of large amounts of often poor quality or missing data. AI is really good at crunching numbers and extracting meaningful informations from poor quality and multi-source data (including images, text, numbers, etc). AI can help piece together the information about specific products which would be impossible to model by hand.
If someone was interested in learning more about the work you do, where can the find more? 
The obvious thing would be to contact me. Check out our website (sensomind.com). We have a number of international projects going so location is often not a big issue.
A big thank you to Rufus, and great to hear of the use of AI in the food supply chain. Here at MyFoodTrust, we are always looking for how new technologies can enhance transparency and traceability.
So if you know of any startups, please let me know!
Have a great day.
© MyFoodTrust 2018

Farm animal welfare & transparency. So call me blockchain? Maybe

This article is written by Dan McGlynn:

Sustainability & animal welfare – the power of transparency, technology & collaboration – so call me blockchain, maybe?

Farm Animal Welfare – it’s now seen as a strategic opportunity by many global companies.

The benchmark…

I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of the 6th BBFAW report evaluating the performance of 110 large food institutions. The headline was ‘good progress but still a long way to go’.

Thank you to Nicky Amos for inviting me, one of the best events I have ever attended.

The venue was the London Stock Exchange – strange setting you may possibly think? Not so, it became very evident when David Harris, Head of sustainable investment at FTSE Russell opened the event by talking about how investors are closely linking sustainability and animal welfare metrics with share performance and valuation.

All business should take note – as the consumer becomes more aware and demands greater transparency on the goods that they are buying, companies that are transparent with their performance in dealing with ethical, sustainability and animal welfare issues will outperform those that are not.

Steve McIvor – chief executive of World Animal Protection made some great comments : ‘Consumers are showing that they increasingly care about the welfare of animals when they are deciding where to eat’.

The Foodservice industry still has ‘a lot more work to do’ providing transparency of animal welfare in their supply chains according to the new report. Despite making some progress (JD Wetherspoons rose 3 places) in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, pub & restaurant chains lag behind retailers and manufacturers and still need to make improvements.

No hospitality company achieved the ‘tier one’ status in the ranking but McDonald’s & our very own Greggs placed towards the top of tier two after making farm animal welfare a part of their business strategies.

The likes of KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks managed tier five, defined as showing limited evidence of implementation, while Subway and Burger King both ranked in tier four, and were defined as making progress. Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and The Co-operative Group all achieved tier one ranking.

The stats are staggering. Globally, 50 billion chickens are slaughtered every year (that’s 7500 every 10 seconds) – a large proportion of those live in unacceptable conditions. A lot of work is being done with the emerging markets of countries such as China, Brazil and Thailand.

 

Did you know that the largest dairy industry in the world is in India? China produces 700 million pigs per year – the UK produces 10 million. Big numbers, lots of animals.

The report scores companies on 4 areas:

·      Management policy & commitment

·      Governance & management

·      Leadership & innovation

·      Performance reporting & impact – increasingly becoming more important

Similar to the Modern Slavery act 2015, it’s not good enough just to have a policy in place. The company needs to have the commitments as part of their culture and strategy and more importantly, measure and report on their performance.

Only 11% of companies report on animal welfare outcomes – that’s 12 out of 110 global businesses. The answer is data and technology.

Can blockchain fill this void? Possibly. There are more and more commentators on this subject, very few are experts and it’s unproven in food. Watch this space and I aim to provide more insight on this subject soon.

There is existing technology that maps supply chains and is able to harvest sustainability & animal welfare KPIs from any part of that chain – look at my linked in profile and you will find out who they are!

Transparency will be king – do not underestimate the power of transparency. Technology will be the vehicle for this much need transparency.

If any of the above has resonated and you would like to discuss this subject further, lets connect and get in touch. I am heading up a project to drive collaboration in the foodservice industry focusing on compliance, ethical and animal welfare performance. All fingers point towards integrity.

Don’t get me started on integrity (doing the right thing even when nobody is looking). That subject is for another day.

I also love feedback – good, bad and ugly, it’s how we all grow so please let me know your thoughts.

Have a great day

Dan McGlynn

Authenticate IS

Original posted here:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/farm-animal-welfare-transparency-so-call-me-maybe-dan-mcglynn/

Towards a Transparency Culture in the Food Chain

This article is written by John G. Keogh.

Conventional wisdom suggests that transparency is an irrefutable practice in public and private sector governance (1). In fact, transparency is viewed as foundational for the efficient functioning of markets and provides a bedrock layer for trust to function as a ‘social lubricant’ by reducing information asymmetry (2). Although there is a complex bidirectional relationship between transparency and trust, increased transparency increases trust, according to a growing number of empirical findings and industry research.

“Trust is in Crisis” Edelman, 2017 Trust Barometer

The recurring exposures of deceptive practices, ethical lapses as well as opportunistic and immoral behaviour by individuals, governments, media, NGO’s and businesses has catapulted transparency into global prominence especially in the food industry.

No doubt you would concur that we have ideological and biased reporting, allegations of ‘paid-for’ scientific publications, deceptive practices, fake news and then there is the viral nature of social media to spread the falsehoods.

With all this going on in the background, sceptical consumers continue to raise their concerns about major social issues related to sustainability of natural resources and habitat destruction of endangered species. A key question raised often is whether the 3rd party certifiers are independent and unbiased, whether their results are peer-reviewed and can be trusted. And more importantly, can they be trusted when they rely on the firms they audit for revenue?

Research by Graham Bullock (2015) on 245 eco-labels and sustainability schemes in the USA found only 2 firms met criteria of being independent, had qualified staff (PhD level experts) and their results were peer-reviewed. He further noted that 56% of Americans do not trust companies’ green claims. Bullock’s insightful research was based on the findings from Starobin and Weinthal (2010) who found competency issues with 3rd party certifiers for Kosher labels.

Furthermore, consumers have legitimate concerns spanning from fair trade to the immoral acts of human slavery and forced child labour in our food chains. On top of concerns for animal welfare and a growing fear of antibiotic resistance, consumers are suffering from a lack of consensus among the public health agencies, NGO’s and the food business operators on the long-term health and safety of common foods. Again, whom can they trust?

do you remember the 2015 ‘processed meat causes cancer’ from the WHO? It seemed well grounded in scientific evidence but after significant push-back from industry, there was consumer confusion followed by a partial retraction by WHO a few days later. Who can the consumer trust to provide transparent, and trusted information? Unbiased reporting and evidence-based recommendations? Was the retraction the result of an industry lobby to protect revenues or grounded in sound science?

When transparency is lacking, so is trust!

In my view, the problem today is a lack of a transparency culture throughout the food ecosystem. But my question is; who is hiding what and why are they doing it? Following on from that, it is no wonder (at least to me) that Edelman argues that trust is in crisis. The challenges we are now faced with is ‘whom’ do we trust, and ‘what information’ can we trust? And my question is, therefore ‘can a transparency culture help’? I think it can.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines transparency as the “quality or state of being transparent”. And ‘transparent’ is defined as “having the property of transmitting light….” and “free from pretense or deceit”, “easily detected or seen through”, “readily understood,” “characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices”

What is a Transparency culture?

Much like a food safety culture which is brilliantly outlined in several books by Frank Yiannas, VP of Food Safety at Wal-Mart, in my view, a transparency culture is essentially about human behaviour. Regardless of laws, regulations, standards and organizational SOP’s, a transparency centric culture means doing the right thing when nobody is looking. And when they are looking, to accept responsibility and accountability.

A transparency culture should extend throughout the organizational ecosystem and is critically important to the boundary spanning employees who engage in direct communication and business transactions with stakeholders. A transparency culture is also about honest, forthright, clear and understandable communications, not hiding details in the fine print or providing scientific or technical language that consumers cannot normally decipher.

An example of a Transparency Culture fail

A transparency culture in the food chain is not only about the food itself but also related to business practices which impact consumers negatively. In the past week, Canada’s premier retailer, Loblaw received immunity from prosecution as the whistleblower on more than a decade of industry practices of collusion and price-fixing for bread. This ethical and immoral lapse was not just one person but a whole supply chain colluding to cheat consumers and break Canadian anti-trust laws. Will a Blockchain fix this? Nope.

This illegal practice will be costly for Loblaw and others, and not just financially. It will take time for consumer trust to bounce back. Loblaw is booking a CDN$ 150 million charge this quarter to appease angry consumers with a 25-dollar ‘mea-culpa’ voucher. Unethical behaviour doesn’t pay and will get exposed eventually.

 ‘‘Transparency is the deliberate attempt to make available all legally releasable information—whether positive or negative in nature—in a manner that is accurate, timely, balanced, and unequivocal, for the purpose of enhancing the reasoning ability of publics and holding organizations accountable for their actions, policies, and practices” Rawlings (2009)

How do we fix this?

The entire food ecosystem needs a rethink on transparency as an enabler of consumer trust. From farm to retail we should consider how to put into practice a program, or programs to ensure ‘transparency as a culture’ is embedded in all aspects of the food chain.

A lofty goal right? Why am I proposing this? well, no government or enforcement agency can control or govern all aspects of our complex society. Therefore, voluntary measures such as those embedded into a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program becomes an alternative, non-state mechanism to address these societal issues and concerns broadly (5). And specifically, issues such as food safety, food security, food fraud and price fixing – the latter being one of those issues where consumers, regulators and insiders alike probably shake their heads in dismay thinking that was a thing of the past.

Embarking on a CSR journey focused on implementing a transparency culture is one way for an organization to publically state, ‘we are taking responsibility’ and ‘we are accountable’ for addressing these big-hairy societal issues and also the specific issues of food safety, fraud and deceptive practices. By the way, transparency is viewed in the discourse as fundamental to the implementation of successful CSR, which, if not managed ethically, becomes just another tool for an organization to peddle untruths such as greenwashing (fake sustainability claims).

Finally, in a transparency culture, whistleblowing at all levels should be encouraged to continually improve processes by shining a light in the opaque areas of the food chain where unethical, immoral, deceitful and illegal behaviours are most rampant. This is no doubt a marathon, and the food industry is likely still at the start line without a race plan.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers.

About the Author:

John G. Keogh is a sought-after speaker, advisor and researcher. Operating at the intersection of the Public + Private sectors globally, he provides confidential advisory, research & interventions across policy, operations, strategy and technology.

John holds a PG Dip. and an MBA in General Mgmt. He has an MSc (distinction) in Business and Management Research into Supply Chain Transparency and Consumer Trust. He is currently a part-time, associate researcher at Henley Business School, undertaking doctoral (DBA) research into food chain transparency and consumer trust. John plans to publish an ebook “Food Chain Transparency – what executives need to know” in 2018.

Sources:

(1) Welch et al., (2006), (2) Berg (2004). (3) Rawlins, (2008), (4) Penders et al., (2017), (5) Dubbink et al., (2008), plus in-text references.

 

Original posted here:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/towards-transparency-culture-food-chain-john-g-keogh/

Interview – Founder of bext360, Daniel Jones

I have looked so much forward to this interview.  Ever since I first read about bext360, and their use of blockchain, I have impatiently been waiting to see their work in action. So, if you are a coffee addict, and want to be sure that the coffee you drink everyday, in fact is the quality of what it is suppose to be, bext360 will have you covered. Lets get started!

Can you start with telling us a little about yourself and Bext360?I’m (Daniel Jones) a US and Africa based entrepreneur with over 17 years of experience living and working in emerging and frontier markets including China, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and India. I have professional roots in technology, applied mathematics, electronic commerce, and emerging economies. In 1991, I was with the Defense Intelligence Agency, where I was a key architect and topology designer of the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications Systems (JWICS), the first and now largest TCP/IP system to transfer voice, video, and data across Top Secret networks.

After that, I spent the last five years living in Kinshasa, DRC, where I evaluated supply chains and structured/funded companies as CEO and founder of Pioneer Management. In the DRC, I founded RAMIKA, the first US-owned company to successfully export conflict-free minerals from the DRC to the US in compliance with supply chain and traceability requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act. In addition, I structured the first private port facility constructed in the DRC.

I launched bext360 in April 2017. bext360 is company that develops technologies to streamline critical supply chains in emerging economies. Although our technology can be used across industries for different commodities, we are focused on the coffee industry first. Our bext-to-brew” platform aims to revolutionize the coffee supply chain with IoT, blockchain, machine vision and artificial intelligence (more on this below), while bringing consumers and farming communities together to improve product quality, community livelihoods and the consumer coffee experience. A guiding principle of bext360 is to build community by enabling buyers and other organizations with direct paths to improve the quality of both the product and the communities that provide the coffee.

Great, but how did you first get involved with coffee supply chains?I got involved with coffee supply chain after working for years in the Democratic Republic of Congo exporting conflict-free minerals, where security necessitated by large cash transactions represented a significant expense. I saw that most were entirely inefficient and lacked so much transparency. At around the same time, I started learning about blockchain technology and I became fascinated with the idea that it could potentially transform the supply chain for many industries. I landed on coffee because it is one of the most valued commodities in the world and its supply chain is completely antiquated.

Why is there a need for better traceability and transparency of coffee supply chains?

Although coffee is the second-largest traded commodity in the world (a $150 billion market worldwide), its supply chain remains antiquated and opaque. While global demand for coffee continues to grow, farming communities in developing countries must accept low prices and delayed payments for their harvested goods (women are responsible for 70 percent of growing and harvesting). However, millennials and coffee connoisseurs are now demanding transparency for sourcing and origin – indicating a shift in consumer preference and their willingness to pay for supply chain transparency.

And in relation to that, how do Bext360 technology tackle the problem?

bext360 is helping to eliminate many of the inefficiencies of the coffee supply chain while simultaneously providing transparency at each step of the process. Using machine vision, AI and IoT along with blockchain technology, we evaluate and sort coffee cherries and parchment (a phase of coffee been processing) based on quality. Farmers are then able to use a mobile app to view payments based on coffee quality, and may offer or reject the proposed payment. They are effectively increasing compensation for higher quality cherries. Powered by Stellar’s blockchain, the application immediately pays the farmer for her product upon acceptance of the offer. The application may also connect to the farmer’s other accounts for transactions such as loan repayments, local taxes and other financial commitments. Each evaluation and transaction relating to the coffee – including farmer identification, quality, purchasers and payouts – is recorded on the blockchain providing visibility to end consumers.

The certification process in supply chains is extremely costly. Currently, inspectors must physically examine each product at every point of the supply chain to verify that the product is what it purports to be. For coffee, every batch requires certification papers to move along the supply chain from one port to the next. bext360 is moving this data to the blockchain, providing transparency and immutability, which eliminates today’s costly and sometimes unreliable paper trail.

Using blockchain technology, the bext360 platform also creates crypto tokens based on the analyzed quality of the coffee to more accurately reflect the value of this commodity. As the commodity progresses through the supply chain, new tokens are automatically created to represent the increased value of the product until it becomes the roasted coffee we know and love.

For example, when a coffee cherry enters the supply chain, a token is created to represent its quality at the first level. As it continues through the supply chain and is processed to become “green coffee”, a new token will be created at this supply chain node and exchanged with the older token to represent the commodity in its new form. This tokenization technology can be used to represent other products, such as cocoa, nuts, spices, seafood products and pharmaceuticals.

The ability to create tokens representative of commodity value is groundbreaking in many ways. All stakeholders across the supply chain can own tokens, which hold real value for financial institutions. Banks, suppliers, business owners and the machines themselves can own, pay and collect from each other seamlessly. Commodity financing, plays a significant role in the portfolios of certain financial institutions. Rabobank has welcomed the use of tokens to reduce risk, while fundamentally changing how companies interface with the bank itself. Tokenization technology drastically reduces the transaction cost of global commodities and may also be applied to inventory valuation and the development of smart contracts.

Additionally, by providing the data recorded on the blockchain to banks and microfinancing institutions, it makes financials easier to audit and assess lending risk and therefore, reduces the risk to make individual loans. On the bext360 platform record includes: how much each farmer has sold, the quality of her cherries, and how many coffee cherry trees she owns. Based on this information and her unique history, the bank may borrow against the value reflected on her blockchain record. It is an innovative solution to address ongoing limitations for the under-banked – something other startups like Tala are trying to address with alternative credit scores.

Blockchain technology can also bring consumers and farming communities together. Using the bext360 platform, eventually, consumers may tip coffee farmers directly for coffee purchased at their neighborhood coffee shop. Payments to the farmer could be made instantaneously and tracked through the blockchain’s immutable ledger to assure consumers that tips were allocated appropriately.

If someone was interested in learning more about the work you do, where can the find more?

They can visit our website, or also read about us on Fast Company and Fortune. There is also a short documentary video about our company and technology that was created by Freethink Media for their Coded Series that was sponsored by Facebook.

I believe that this combination, blockchain and on-site quality control, will help ensure transparency from start to finish, and as Dan says, bring consumers and farmers closer together.

® 2018 MyFoodTrust

By

Kristoffer Just