8 2019 DTU HIGH TECH SUMMIT Blockchain to provide safer meals INDUSTRY 4.0 & ROBOTICS The Danish food sector is likely to benefit strongly from solutions which allow businesses to document quality and authenticity. A new project at DTU is set up to make it happen. By Morten Andersen It is a paradox. On the one hand, the food sector seems ideal for introducing new digital solutions which allow customers to verify that products are what they are claimed to be. On the other hand, the sector is actually falling behind several other sectors in adapting such techniques. “The Danish food sector is likely to benefit from Blockchain and other digital technologies. Danish food has a strong reputation for high standards. This is worth protecting both for the sake of consumer safety and for safeguarding the business opportunities of the Danish companies,” says Henning Høgh Jensen, head of division at DTU Food. He heads a new project funded by the Danish Industry Foundation, “Bottom-up Blockchain Value Chains in the Food Sector.” “We have chosen the bottom-up approach as the sector is characterized by having many small and medium size enterprises. These companies typically operate on a short time horizon. Without return of investment due quite soon, an innovative solution will never make it past the desk of the CEO of a typical food producing company. Thus, we will start by asking the companies how a digital solution should be designed in order to be of interest.” Fake wine, beef and infant formula The main point in blockchain based solutions is that it is not possible to alter information in the digital documents unnoticed. “In other words, Blockchain does not prevent swindle. It is still possible to manipulate data. But the receiver will see, that something has been changed. This will of course compromise the supplier and affect his credibility,” says Henning Høgh Jensen, adding: “Two years ago, we saw a lot of hype around Blockchain. Now, we enter a more realistic phase. Blockchain is no longer seen as the answer to any problem. We need to identify the projects where the technology can really make a difference.” Still, it remains obvious that many such applications must be possible in the food sector. Internationally, a number of scandals have attracted wide attention. In China, infant formula was shown to contain the toxic substance melanin. And in Europe, wine has been watered down and then had ethanol added to maintain the alcohol percentage. “Some of these scandals involve real danger to consumers such as the melanin case. Others may not in- volve risk – for instance, we have seen horse meat sold as beef, which does not endanger the consumer, but of course is highly misleading,” Henning Høgh Jensen comments. Asia keen on Danish quality Blockchain is not only about preventing swindle. “Increasingly, consumers value authenticity. For instance, raw products originating from a specific region could be in higher demand. Examples could be coffee, nuts, fish etc. If you want to be in this type of market, you need to be able to document the origin of your raw Increasingly, consumers value raw products originating from specific regions. Examples are coffee, nuts and fish. Photo credit: ALC Media, Colourbox. products,” Henning Høgh Jensen explains. In this respect, a Danish origin is often a strong asset. “In Asia, for instance, Da nish products are in high regard for their quality and reliability. This allow Da nish small and medium size enterprises to access these markets without massive investments in marketing. If a project such as ours may contribute to this end even just a bit, it would be a good deed.” The main idea is to produce a number of case stories where Blockchain can be demonstrated to add value to Danish food sector businesses. These cases must fulfil three criteria. Firstly, an important value chain should be protected. Secondly, it must be possible to outline a robust practical solution. And thirdly, this solution should make sense to small and medium size enterprises – in other words one shouldn’t need a PhD degree in computing to operate the system. “We want to address the people who will actually operate the system in order to understand how the solu- tions can help them,” Henning Høgh Jensen emphasizes. “Even having the CEO or the sales manager onboard is not necessarily enough, because he may not be the one entering the data.” Better than random spot tests Besides technical solutions, also the business models may be addressed. “Keeping costs down will be essential as you develop software and devices aimed at small and medium sized enterprises. Still, we can hardly expect the solutions to be for free. So, the point is to develop solutions that deliver an added value larger than the cost,” says Henning Høgh Jensen. “We keep in mind, that companies in the food sector are already burdened with quite extensive demands for documentation. If we can develop something which is not seen as yet another burden, but as something replacing present procedures, hopefully in an easier form, we have come a long way.” In this sense, the project points to future applications that reach beyond the companies in the food sector: “As I see things, this could very well be the beginning of a development towards a much smoother and more effective approach to quality assurance and public food inspection. Today, the food and health authorities rely heavily on either random spot tests or plain rumours. Imagine a future, where digital tools will allow us to focus the efforts where the real challenges lie, and thus the largest potential for improvement exists.” Henning Høgh Jensen looks forward to highlighting the project at High Tech Summit: “The timing is fine, since by October we will have the setup in place and be ready to get out there to approach the companies in the food sector.” Photo credit: Colourbox. BLOCKCHAIN IN THE FOOD SECTOR Project partners are DTU Food, DTU Compute, DTU Skylab, Silicon Valley Innovation Centre Denmark, and consultants WeScale & Co. The Danish Industry Foundation has provided the project budget of 3.6 million DKK, and project duration is one year.
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