Technology used by food transparency network Happerley is being looked at as a potential solution to the Brexit Irish border issue.
At the moment, the group works to ensure shoppers and restaurant-goers know the full journey of their food from farm to fork, with businesses joining the network publishing details of their entire supply chain.
But now Defra, at the request of former Secretary of State Michael Gove, has approached Happerley to help resolve one of the thorniest Brexit issues – the need to avoid checks of food products and livestock on the Irish border.
In order to track food from seed or birth, the network uses crypto-anchored QR labels – also known as ‘digital fingerprints’ because of their ability to ensure an object’s authenticity from origin to destination – mobile app scanning technologies, GPS and dynamic network modelling.
To make sure the data is secured and immutable at every stage of the supply chain, blockchain is applied too.
The Government is now looking to plug Happerley’s technology into the Livestock Information Service (LIS), allowing EU authorities to see accurate, real-time information about animals and their movements.
“Generally authorities operate random checks, weighbridges or scanning technology at borders because they assume there could be a problem,” said Matthew Rymer, founding director of Happerley.
“But if you sell a car for £100, you check that is real money at the point of sale, you do not sell the car and look at it later.
“We can prove the truth of the origin of food and drink up the food chain, making the border almost inconsequential.
“The recipients of deliveries already know exactly what is coming. That information is trackable and the core elements Defra or other authorities need to see can be seen.”
The technology would work even if the UK changed food production regulations at some point in the future, because the information contained on the ‘passport’ would show whether or not the product was EU-compliant.
Mr Rymer claimed pairing Happerley’s technology with access to Government records on animal births and movements had the potential to eliminate food fraud and provide a unique selling point for British food and drink in the post-Brexit world.
“We see this as an opportunity for the Government to slamdunk a solution to a major issue and create a real opportunity,” he said.
“Until you passport food, which is what this would do, you cannot beat food fraud.”
But trade expert David Henig, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, sounded a more cautious note.
“This is another example of something which might help create a solution to the Irish border in the coming years, but is far from ready to be the complete answer now,” he said.
“It would have to be tested, EU law may have to change and you would still need some level of inspection. We are not there yet.”