Technology, Food Chain improvement and level playing field.
The case of Blockchain.
On the occasion of the Global Food Forum organized by farm Europe in Brussels (2-3 December), and under the chairmanship of Mr. Paolo de Castro, a very interesting debate was held on the role of technology in the agrifood system.
Below, you will find the comments I made during my intervention in the panel, mainly focused on the use of blockchain.
– Technology is clearly a driver for the next agrifood model that is emerging at global and European level. It would be impossible to respond to our challenges (people + planet) without the leverage of innovation and technology.
– So we should ask ourselves… What is the European society demanding from our food system? The European Commission is working in a political response to this question (the most expected communication on 2030 vision for sustainable food systems), but we already know some of the main drivers behind:
I am not an expert in technology, as many of the people in the audience, I guess, but it seems clear to me that blockchain technology has much to say and to do in all those issues.
I will try to share with you three ideas that I hope will be useful for all of you, and also interesting for the debate.
FIRST– Keeping in mind that blockchain is a very new technology, and because of this, it depends on the confidence on the potential users and also, on how blockchain scales up on the market to become the reference. It’s obvious that this new tool is a very much promising opportunity to create value in some areas of the food chain, and especially in terms of:
But at the same time, and in order to keep in mind also the cons, and not only the pros, we have to say that issues like:
… Are still to be considered.
SECOND– How could this new technology fit in the European agrifood model? What could be the impact in the different areas of the system as we know it now?
Without trying to be exhaustive, I want to highlight some of them that I think are critical:
Finally and THIRD: some final reflections. Food for thought.
Blockchain is a tool, and in this sense, it is neutral. What determines its value, is the use we can make of it.
Mainly, I wanted to make clear in my message that blockchain has many positive elements that will get over any lacks mentioned because of its infancy.
But I want to bring your attention to a fact that needs to be considered: The governance of the system.
In order to get the outmost of blockchain, the silo approach must be set aside. It must be as neutral as possible, avoiding any attempt of power struggle between the links of the chain.
It only makes sense if it brings benefits specifically to each one of the actors of the food chain, creating value for all of them without unfair or disproportionate advantages. This must be considered a pre-competitive issue, based on a level playing field.
How can this be achieved? In my opinion, we have already the legal instruments to ensure it. The UTP Directive, which is due to be transposed in May 2021, gives the framework for a balanced model.
Article 1.3 of the directive, states that “it is applied to services insofar as explicitly referred in article 3 (unfair trade practices prohibited)”.
And in its article 8, cooperation between enforcement authorities, it is stated that during the annual discussion of the application of the directive “best practices, new cases and new developments” should be analyzed and subject to recommendations, if needed.
On the final point, if it is the case, any recommendation must be the result of a broad consultation and participation with the different stakeholders, including the technology providers, the only way to succeed.
Alternatively, a code of conduct or other “soft law” approach should be considered.
As I said in the beginning, technology is enabling our food system to face the challenges we have in front. Technology as such, is neutral, so let’s apply it in the right way and creating equal value for all the members of the chain.