This is a an interview I have looked forward to for a long time. Both due to Frederik being a friend of mine, but also because he is really driven towards making change happen, not just talk about, but building stuff, as he would put it. In this interview we are focusing on Vertical Farming, and how that will lead us to create a more sustainable agricultural system. But lets hear from the man himself.
Can you start with telling us a little about yourself?
Sure. I’m basically an altruistic hippie caught inside a the body of a super capitalist startup dude out for vengeance on the food system while wearing round design-thinking glasses. Also, I grow plants indoor using all sorts of fancy equipment and try to build a productive community around food technology in Copenhagen. Background within economics, technology and open-source projects.
What are your current work in relation to foodtech?
1 year ago, I co-initiated CPH Foodtech Community (connecting food & technology people on hands-on development projects), Growstack Cooperative (enabling and kickstarting vertical farming) & Reffen Greens (growing microgreens and herbs in a 20’ shipping container), and have all sorts of ambitious projects associated with these initiatives. CPH Foodtech Community is essentially the platform that spun-out the Growstack project (which is now becoming a cooperative), which again is the reason why the opportunity to establish Reffen Greens as a local micro-scale vertical farm came about.
What is vertical farming? And why is it important?
Vertical farming is basically the use of technology like LED lights, automated irrigation, sensors, dispensers and data science to grow plants in multiple levels on top of each other in highly controlled environments and usually without soil. And why is it an important thing? First of all, it’s no secret that our current agricultural system has a few very serious issues in terms of things like pollution, deforestation, lack of arable land and limited biodiversity, meaning that scaling up our current way of producing plants simply just isn’t a viable option in the future. Secondly, the biggest risk factor within agriculture is really the weather. And since we have very little certainty about the state of our climate even in the coming 10-15 years, removing that risk seems like a pretty good idea. At the same time, people’s food habits are actually getting worse in terms of climate impact. And if we want people to eat less meat and other environmentally unfriendly foods, we better start making plants the far superior alternative. With vertical farming we can actually attain higher quality, pesticide free and non-pollutant plant production year round and grow all kinds of varieties that would otherwise be difficult, because we have full climate control and can use enriched sensor-data to find out exactly how to optimise for not only yield and size, but also taste and nutritional value at the same time. Apart from this, vertical farming has the potential to really decentralise part of food production as we know it, which has some pretty valuable socioeconomic benefits and other cool stuff within achievable range.
Building on that, from your knowledge, how can Vertical Farming help create greater traceability and transparency of food products?
Well, given how digital the production is, it’s a lot easier to know exactly what inputs the plants have received and track the journey all the way from seed production to your plate. Kristoffer, you are probably fishing for a recommendation to develop some kind of fancy blockchain application here – but I’m Just (pun intended) not gonna give it to you.
Kristoffer: I honestly wasn’t, but I think that Vertical Farming in itself is going to create transparency. By looking at farms which is based in the same buildings as supermarkets, people could go by where their lettuce, basil is grown, thereby minimising both the physical and psychological distance between us, and the food we eat. And hopefully inspiring people to ask questions about the foods origin and cultivation.
If someone was interested to learn more, where could they read more on this topic?
There’s always www.growstack.org – but honestly simple Google and youtube searches will bring you an abundance of good introductions to the topic. Then there are different kinds of scientific articles, documentaries and books written on the topic as well – again google is your friend. Another quick reference could be www.agritecture.com which usually features a few interesting developments from the global scene. And no – if you google Growstack Marketplace and find links to anabolic steroid products available for purchase, it is not us. I promise.
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.
Here are my answers to questions posed over the past few months online and in industry and regulator dialogue. As some of my points can be successfully argued from different angles, this is intended to create the dialogue and not limit it. Your comments and perspectives are valuable and I look forward to this discussion.
Question 1 : Do I need a Blockchain for effective Food Recall?
No. In a closed supply chain with limited exchange partners you don’t need a blockchain to execute a rapid recall of an unsafe product. Any GS1-standards based technology platform can be used to rapidly trace (backward) and track (forward) a consumer packaged product if the product has a data carrier (barcode) and/or batch/lot # attached. Check out the GS1 global office website or your country GS1 organization as they have a traceability and product recall standard and guidelines on how to execute recall effectively.
In the USA, industry standards body GS1 has partnered with GMA and FMI and has a nationwide, cloud-based Rapid Recall Express platform in operation for almost 10 years. There are similar industry-driven, national recall platforms in place in Canada, Australia and New Zealand which align to regulations and helps protect consumers and reduces industry risks. GS1 South Korea has a ‘stop-sale’ process in place with multiple government regulators for about 10 years. If any of the regulators determine a product is unsafe, the regulator sends a GS1-centric message to the retailers HQ. Within 30 minutes of receiving the regulators alert, all points of sale (cash registers) in the country are blocked and the ‘stop-sale’ process is enacted. I have seen this in action and it’s amazing. The stop-sale process is quickly followed by the formal recall process. This globally unique process reduces the risk of consumer harm and helps to protect the brand at the same time.
Blockchain is helpful for a recall use case when you have multiple exchange partners across multiple countries and using disparate technologies (see Q2). The opensource and purpose-built blockchain data protocol from OriginTrail is very useful in this scenario because it enables GS1-standards based interoperability between multiple blockchains and legacy. As the below slide from OriginTrail indicates, today we have many data silos and interoperability is crucial to address both traceability, transparency and to execute a rapid recall. Origin Trail will be the first to advise that without first addressing data governance (accurate and standardized data) blockchain will not work as intended.
Disclaimer: I advise the Origin Trail board on industry standards, transparency and trust
Question 2: Are current food regulations driving the need for Blockchains?
Yes. Regulations are generally non-prescriptive and in the food chain they call for a “1-up/1-down” traceability. In complex, multi-party supply chains this is costly, time-consuming and can lead to (preventable) illness and death. In the Walmart Mango use case, it took almost 7 days to execute a mock recall based on 1-up/1-down approach and 2.2 seconds using their specific Blockchain configuration. Blockchain technology is helpful in complex, multi-country, multi-exchange party supply chains that already have good data governance and industry data standards (GS1) in place. A standards-based blockchain enables linkages to be made between the exchange parties and permits sharing of product master data, transactional data and event data – the unhindered flow and visibility of this data is what we call transparency.
I have adapted and use the following diagram to explain the success of the Walmart model in context of theoretical and practical applications of transparency and trust using technology. In this model, the below-the-line RMT indicates regulation mediated transparency. You will note that this is based on mistrust – so are strong contracts that buyers put in place with suppliers. The alternative is what Walmart achieved with voluntary trust-building with strategic transparency and identification based trust enabled by technology – what I call TMT or Technology Mediated Transparency.
Question 3: Can Blockchain guarantee Food Safety and Food Authenticity?
No. Blockchain is oversold as a guarantee of food safety, food authenticity and anti-counterfeit in general. The only legitimate and legal way to guarantee food safety and authenticity is through analytical testing of the product itself – we cannot track the outer package or container and claim the food is safe and authentic. On-pack security features (forensic, covert or overt) help in fraud detection but forensic evidence is required for successful conviction in food fraud cases.
Example 1. WINE bottle recycling
There is a known underground industry that trades in used wine bottles. A hotel or restaurant worker may be incentivized to collect and sell empty vintage wine bottles for hundreds of dollars each. They are re-filled and re-sold for thousands of $, often with fake security features. According to a 2017 Forbes article, an estimated 30,000 bottles of fake imported wine are sold in China every hour. Solution providers are making technology advances and offering security features that create obstacles on the bottle itself including tamper-evident features and fraud alerts for multiple scans of the serialized identifier. Despite the technology improvements and their utility, the only way to legally guarantee the wine is genuine is through forensic testing of the wine bottle contents against the reference samples taken from the harvested crop, or the final blended mix. The storage of reference samples by harvested batch may be a regulatory requirement in some regions.
Example 2. Commingling of fresh fruit and vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables may be commingled with products from multiple, geographically dispersed suppliers which increases the risks related to quality, safety, authenticity and provenance. For example, a product may claim to be organic but might have 50% non-organic mixed in to complete the order. The role of blockchain and other technologies in this scenario is limited because human behaviour is the variable. Risk reduction strategies will vary and depend on the context and culture. They can draw on combinations of 1) incentivized behaviour to reduce cheating 2) training on a food safety culture 3) effective food safety practices 4) farm and supply chain auditing 5) industry supply chain standards 6) technology solutions and 7) analytical science. The latter, analytical science being the most critical for evidence.
Question 4: Can Blockchain deliver a guarantee of Food Provenance?
No. This is confusing I know. Provenance refers to geographic source or origin and is determined by forensic science not software, GPS or hardware (see below traceability). Let me share a hypothetical example; lets say we have potatoes and carrots in Vietnam that go to market as ‘product of Vietnam’. In one possible scenario, bad actors could roll the veggies in dampened local dirt to enhance the illusion of being a local product. When the product is forensically tested, both the veggie species, and their carbon fingerprint proves they are indigenous to, and were grown in a particular region of China. This is food fraud and classified as an economically motivated adulteration where a cheaper product is sold as a more expensive premium local product. Blockchain, IoT, stickers/logos or barcodes on bundles of products will not solve this because human behaviour is the variable.
Analytical laboratories can address these issues as part of a regular audit of suppliers and supply chains. Similarly, forensic testing can determine if fish were wild caught or farmed. Companies doing exceptionally well at this today include Perth-based Source Certain and New Zealand-based Oritain, to name a few.
Question 5: What’s the difference between provenance, traceability and chain of custody?
Even the experts get these confused. Let me explain how I see it. Provenance is defined above as geographic source or origin and it is guaranteed only through the results of forensic testing of it’s carbon fingerprint. You will hear experts or software companies say they ‘track provenance’. In many cases what they really mean is classic supply chain traceability or in some cases, chain of custody. Classic traceability includes the source of the materials and is best interpreted as the ‘business or logistics source’. In my opinion, we should not call it tracking provenance as we are not necessarily tracking the true geographic source or origin per-se, we are tracking physical ‘movement’ from a business or logistics source through the supply chain. This draws an important distinction between classic product traceability and forensic product traceability of the geographic source or origin as defined by forensic testing of the products carbon fingerprint.
To help the discussion and align on terminology, see below definitions of food traceability extracted from Olsen and Borit (2013).
CODEX: Traceability is defined in the Codex Alimentarius Commission Procedural Manual (FAO/WHO, 1997) as “the ability to follow the movement of a food through specified stage(s) of production, processing and distribution ”.
ISO: Traceability defined in ISO 9000 and ISO 22005. ISO 9000 (ISO, 2000) as “The ability to trace the history, application or location of that which is under consideration”
The ISO 22005 (ISO, 2005 ) definition is word for word the same as the ISO 9000 definition, but ISO 9000 is a standard for quality management systems in general whereas ISO 22005 is a specific standard for traceability in the food and feed chain. ISO 22005 adds that “Terms such as document traceability, computer traceability, or commercial traceability should be avoided. ”
For all these ISO definitions (ISO 8402, ISO 9000, ISO 22005), there is an additional clause which states that when relating to products, traceability specifically entails “the origin of materials and parts, the processing history, and the distribution and location of the product after delivery”.
EU General Food Law (EU, 2002) defines traceability as “The ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food producing animal or substance intended to be, or expected to be incorporated into a food or feed, through all stages of production, processing and distribution ”.
The net-net, traceability includes the material origin. A brief note: within a supply chain, physical products are tracked-forward but traced-backwards and this bi-directional capability is generally referred to as traceability. The chart below is unpublished and from my academic research. It shows the nuances of information, product and assurance flows.
Chain of Custody (CoC)
CoC or cumulative tracking was an active discussion in pharmaceuticals in the early to mid 2000’s but seems to have lost some favour. CoC is critically and legally important in highly regulated sectors. For example in weapons, explosives, transport of bulk money, works of art etc. where exact time stamps of the product physical movement, locations and details of all transactions including the parties in physical custody must be tracked and registered. This is similar to a FedEx package delivery where very detailed information is available and signatures are required for acceptance from one party to another. This accumulation of data along the supply chain is sometimes referred to as similar to a ‘Russian doll’.
Example: Pharmaceuticals and Tobacco
Pharmaceuticals and tobacco are two sectors that are highly regulated to protect against many issues including illicit trade, counterfeit, human health and safety etc. What this means is that every dispensing unit of a drug and every pack of cigarettes must be globally and uniquely identified with a serial number and tracked at every stage in it’s supply chain (to the point of dispensing for drugs and to the last point before purchase for tobacco. Note, drugs are tracked to prescriptions and patients, tobacco is not tracked to smokers).
In the (old) chart below from GS1, CoC is represented by cumulative tracking in comparison to 1-up/1-down, centralized database control for closed networks and distributed databases; which we noted more than 15 years ago and is now similar to the current blockchain dialogue. The latest version of the various traceability models can be found in the GS1 Global Traceability Standard (2017).
Disclaimer: I was previously a senior vice president at GS1 Canada and Director of Product & Consumer Safety at GS1 Global office.
Food is regulated of course but not to the extent above that it requires serial number specificity (lot size 1). Generally, food is tracked by lot, batch or date code and a can of soda will have the same global trade item number (GTIN) as the same soda product next to it. The GTIN, while globally unique and aligned to the brand is not a serial number and is referred to as a product family or class code. With the increase in food fraud, there is now growing momentum to add a second data carrier to a food product with a serialized identifier and links to a product web page or product authentication tools. Note, date carrier is a ‘family name’ for all barcodes and RFID tags. Regulations may suggest the ‘data to be carried’ and the brand owner will then select the appropriate data carrier.
To visualize how a GTIN works in a food chain today, see the chart below from GS1 which can be found in the 2017 version of the Global Traceability Standard
On August 13th 2018, GS1 released a new standard called the GS1 Digital Linkstandard which will enable connections to all types of B2B and B2C information. This new standard is the foundational bridge between physical products and their digital twins.
That’s it for this post – your comments, feedback and opinions are highly valued and very important. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on topics related to transparency, trust, credence, anti-counterfeit, traceability, product recall, blockchain, provenance and many more.
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.
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.
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.
Transparency has been one of the biggest buzzwords in the food business. It has driven product reformulations, moved producers to utilize more sustainable practices. It is now no more an option, it’s a requirement. The survey by Response Media underscores its importance as producers, manufacturers and retailers move forward with greater transparency of their products. The survey was carried out Q1 this year with 500 US respondents and mixed gender demographics.
Consumers place a significant value of importance on the source of ingredients; the manufacturing, handling, and shipping of the product; and the sustainability, charitable, and labor policies of a brand.
Consumers primarily want it before and during purchase. So an easy-to-use QR code or NFC tag, combined with the consumers smartphone could do the trick.
So their recommendation is that companies that can deliver content during all stages will secure a stronger level of trust and differentiate themselves from competition.
So, brands must consciously develop and communicate meaningful transparency content to consumers when and where they want it. This transparency have to be founded on a trusted process, or else it is just airy-fairy. This could be a supply chain blockchain tech and RFID process, to ensure the greater transparency and traceability. So there is no need to wait, the first that brings transparency to the food we eat, is going to have a great advantage when people have to chose between products in the supermarket.