Pinsent Masons provides legal advice in breakthrough data trust report for food industry

30 Mar 2021 | 08:27 am | 2 min. read

Multinational law firm Pinsent Masons has provided the legal advice in a set of new reports recommending the latest innovation in the burgeoning technology of data trusts.

The reports, 'Food Data Trusts: a framework for sharing information', produced by the Internet of Food Things team at the University of Lincoln and Food Data Trust – Legal, Structuring and Governance, written by Pinsent Masons, both commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) propose a breakthrough technology to resolve longstanding issues of consumer confidence in food labelling, origins and authenticity and the legal framework to support this.

The proposal is for a data trust framework under which businesses at all points in the food supply chain, from growers and manufacturers to retailers, can safely share selective in-house data. This could significantly improve supply chain processes while boosting consumer confidence about where foods come from, how sustainably they’re sourced and their authenticity.

The legal report, written by a team of data experts from Pinsent Masons including Andrew McMillan, Sarah Cameron, Michele Voznick, Lauro Fava, Chris Martin, Angelique Bret and Brendan Ryan, sets out the necessary collaboration agreements underpinning a data trust framework.

Professor Simon Pearson, Professor of Agri-Food Technology at the University of Lincoln, said:

"It's easy to understand why businesses are reluctant to share such commercially sensitive information. No one wants to reveal their advantages to their competitors. But, in the data age, this reluctance is holding up much-needed advances. Sharing data in a secure and limited way can help to expose and tackle problems from incorrect labelling and widespread food fraud to tracing contaminated food, as well as speeding up product recalls.  
"The data trust framework provides a structure under which data, including real-time and time-critical, ever-changing data, can be supplied to and held securely by independent and trusted repositories, with strong governance ensuring that data providers can trust that their data will only be used as specified while recipients of data and analysis can trust the accuracy and authenticity of what's provided."
Julie Pierce, Director of Wales, Information and Science at the Food Standards Agency said:

"The food industry needs to be able to trust that if it exchanges vital knowledge to improve what it does, its sensitive knowledge will be secure. Governments and consumers need to be able to trust what the industry and individual companies are doing and telling them. The data trust framework aims to tackle both requirements."

Importantly, the framework is not a data trust itself: it is a mechanism to manage data trusts, which might be decentralised, diverse data collections. It is designed to control the way that data may be exchanged across data trusts that are linked temporarily, to ensure that information can be shared securely for example between regulators and other government departments that need to exchange secure and trustworthy data.

It also provides great potential to connect with AI services in order to provide access to dynamic and fresh data in return for immediate AI-derived information that could benefit the interconnected participants in the supply chain.

Andrew McMillan, Head of Technology & Digital Markets at Pinsent Masons said:

“The secure and selective sharing of data is critical in further creating and advancing opportunities for societal, economic and environmental good. Even though the value of data is uncontroversial, many organisations could do more to maximise the value they derive from data they hold. They will only do so, however, within a trusted framework for data-sharing and this is where we have focused our efforts – to assist in designing and implementing a robust and efficient framework that will allow industry to realise the true value of its data.”

The report follows Pinsent Masons' work on the Open Data Institute’s (ODI) and Government Office for AI’s (OAI) ground-breaking data-trust pilots, looking at how data trusts can be used to tackle major global challenges.

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