Securing the chain

Innovation awards finalist: Arc-Net platform combines data collection at all points in the supply chain from farm to fork with blockchain technology

Founder and ceo of Belfast-based Arc-net Kieran Kelly (right). Photograph: Conor McCabe

Founder and ceo of Belfast-based Arc-net Kieran Kelly (right). Photograph: Conor McCabe

 

Belfast company Arc-net has developed a blockchain based traceability solution aimed at tackling the world’s $52 billion (€43.8bn) food-fraud problem. “Our mission is to help companies provide access to safe and authentic food for current and future generations,” says founder and chief executive Kieran Kelly. “There is more money in food fraud than there is in cocaine, and existing legacy food security systems don’t work.”

Kelly started out as a butcher but an accident at home forced him to change career. “I retrained in technology and specialised in cryptography,” he recalls. “I was a director of a global defence company at one stage. I did a project to look at food security systems following the horsemeat scandal in 2013 and found that the food industry had nothing that would allow it to track and trace products as they moved through the supply chain.”

The Arc-net platform combines data collection at all points in the supply chain from farm to fork with the advanced security features of blockchain technology. Blockchain is more commonly associated with crypto-currencies such as bitcoin and other financial services applications but it can be applied to any area where security is at a premium.

“We use blockchain because legacy systems are ineffective,” he says. “Blockchain is a distributed ledger. Everyone who uses it owns it and it can’t be hacked without everyone knowing it. The data can’t be changed without everyone knowing about it. Users can see the whole supply chain in real time, this makes it very powerful.”

Every event in an item’s journey along the supply chain is recorded and assigned a blockchain digital certificate which cannot be altered in any way by a company or other actor attempting to hide the true origin or composition of the product.

In the case of a meat product, for example, the data recording begins with the animal’s birth. “We record the animal’s DNA as soon as it is born and store it digitally on blockchain,” Kelly explains.

The platform creates a Universally Unique Identifier (UUID) for the animal at that point, effectively a digital DNA sequence which stays with the animal and every product made from it until they reach the consumer. Every time the animal is moved or sold the event is recorded, when it is sold for processing and when the cuts of meat reach the supermarket chill cabinet or end up in ready meals, the recording continues.

A simple QR code on the packaging allows the consumer and everyone else involved in the chain to call up the full history and provenance of a food product on their smartphone or other hand-held scanning device.

“Customers can scan a package at the point of sale and receive a full and complete history of their food’s journey,” says Kelly. “They give a bit of information about themselves in return for this. Our solution gives companies and brand owners the ability to have independent validation of their food quality. It also increases the information flow across the entire supply chain, which helps ensure authenticity, quality, traceability and compliance, based on blockchain technology. Consumers also get much greater insight into the product they are buying in terms of its origins and its journey to the shop they are buying it in.”

Unsurprisingly, the platform has attracted the interest of the global food industry and the company is growing rapidly. “We closed a £2 million seed funding round on December 21st, 2016, and we now employ 20 people in our offices in Belfast, Edinburgh and San Francisco. We are about to partner with a global consultancy practice which is working with its clients to fight food fraud.”

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