Digitization makes transparent how food is grown, processed and sold. Standards determine what we call ‘good’. Products must comply with this because processors, manufacturers and retail companies want to prove to you via a QR or other code that they combat climate change, do not harm the environment and biodiversity and treat fellow humans and animals ethically.
This is how the world of tomorrow is being created at a rapid pace. Those who don’t participate are out because they can’t show how they contribute to a better world. But that is not everything. If you don’t think about the standards or don’t ask questions about them, you leave the world of tomorrow to others.
In the EU, for example, it has to be decided whether nuclear energy is sustainable. Whether biomass is sustainable seems to have to remain outside the political decision-making agenda. This is scientifically surprising because biomass plants are now fired with trees from North America and the Baltic Sea region that were cut especially for energy generation, and possibly even with shredded trees from Dutch forests. That is definitely unsustainable. The outcome of political considerations and choices determines the type of standards that arise.
There will be a brake on the creativity of entrepreneurs, their innovation possibilities and their chances of doing business with multiple customers. That goes against the public interest, but it is how the digitization of food is now starting
A second example. Is European biodiversity best served with a largely organic agriculture or with standards that carefully measure the environmental impact of nature-saving agriculture? The scientifically correct answer is: the latter. Yet Europe does not opt for this politically, while biodiversity – the reason why the European Commission opts for organic – does benefit from it. Therefore, other standards will eventually develop. Half-baked, sensible and contradictory choices will eventually translate into the many standards that companies use throughout the food chain.
No one has an interest in the public interest
No supply company or standard maker has an interest in solving this confusing situation. After all, the goal is an own standard for its own business customers with their own consumers. The public interest is not guarded by anyone, not even – as the examples of organic agriculture and biomass as ‘renewable’ energy show – by the government itself. This inhibits the creativity of entrepreneurs, their innovation capabilities and their ability to do business with multiple customers. That goes against the public interest, but it is the way in which the digitization of food is now starting.
Anyone who realizes this will therefore be happy that during the webinar Global Governance by a No-Body another sound was heard. Major players in the standards world said they want to work together to build a universal taxonomy and harmonize standards to allow different standards and the development of new ones to coexist peacefully. After a discussion about the need for harmonization and a universal taxonomy, Kristian Möller van GlobalG.A.P., Mirjam Karmiggelt from GS1, Marjan de Bock-Smit van Impact Buying, Hans de Gier from Syncforce, and Han Brouwers from Solidarity each other in the desire to work together to ensure that taxonomy and coordination are achieved.
As early as 2020, Möller was crystal clear about the challenge of differing standards. “We are talking about harmonization of data, but we also need to talk about harmonization of standards.” He said that because there are already many different ecological, climate and ethical standards for food and more are still being added. If we do nothing, this reduces the possibilities for farmers and horticulturists to do business with different buyers. After all, they have to meet the requirements of a standard, logo or a customer and can no longer meet those of another if they prefer to use a different standard.
The aforementioned standard setters and application makers for standard users want to set up an open table at which they can democratically determine how they can work together on interoperability in the eyes of the international society.
That may sound incredibly boring, but it is incredibly exciting
Imagine a tomato grower who has three large buyers, all of which have slightly different standards. How can he choose? In all cases he will lose 2 buyers. This also raises fundamental questions. According to activists fighting for a sustainable world, the tomato, pepper or cucumber grower who, according to the EU, grows sustainably on energy from biomass a crime towards nature. The European Commission does not want to hear about it.
The aforementioned standard setters and application makers want to do something about this confusion by setting up an open table at which they democratically determine, in the eyes of society, how they can work together on so-called interoperability – making terms interchangeable and the standards in which they are composed. – to enable creative entrepreneurship and innovation.
To achieve this, a critical mass of companies that use the standards must be willing to cooperate. The second condition is that these companies cooperate in the global public interest. As a third condition, the data must remain the property of the companies from front to back in the chain that generate that data. They determine with whom they share it and under which conditions those parties may use their data. After all, the standard setters realize that they are only users of data that belongs to others. They are the access to information that can be of great value after processing by third parties – including themselves. That value and the way to deal with it must remain with the person who generates the data.
With those choices, the intentions and the rules of the game are determined. Bringing together the critical mass of companies to get it on the road may be a smaller step than we think. This brings the development of interoperability in a permanent democratic openness that can be followed publicly closer.
It may sound incredibly boring, but it is incredibly exciting. I don’t want to hide that the Foodlog and Agrifoodnetworks team is proud to have been able to organize the conversation! We hope to be able to take the next steps in 2022.
The lobby for a corona pass is led by the ‘digital identity industry’. A differentiated landscape with large and small players – but a preference for blockchain is becoming more and more apparent. What does that mean? Social debate desired. https://t.co/9HWTX6HzXV
— Jannes van Roermund (@JannesvanRoermu) December 11, 2021
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Standards create the world – Who decides what farmers and horticulturists can make and what we can still buy? – Food log