Skip main navigation

Ensuring the Integrity of our Food Chain

Professor Chris Elliott provides an overview of the measures in place to ensure the integrity of our food - from research to digital innovations
If I buy my seven principles and there’s a massive amount of challenges to delivering those principles, lots of things can go wrong in our food system by accident or by design. So what I wanted to talk to you a little bit about is how we can use what I call the Fourth Industrial Revolution to really try to develop a global first food system that is based on those principles of integrity.
So it may be a new concept for you, this Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it’s about the bringing together, the merger of phenomenal technologies– its digital technologies, its science, its physical sciences, its biological sciences, how you can bring all of those together to see if we can produce this food system that I talked to you about. So let me give you some examples of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help us. Our food system is unbelievably complicated, so complex. This is part of globalisation, and that globalisation has meant we have access to much more food, much more varieties of food. But you know something? We don’t know often where it comes from. We don’t know how it was produced.
We don’t know who has produced it. What we need is transparency, and you’ll hear this word a lot, transparency. What does that mean? And that is allowing us to see where the food is produced and how it has been done. And we can do that through the digital revolution, the digital transparency platforms that are emerging in many different parts of the world. We can track and trace our food. We can see where it’s produced, when it moves somewhere else. We can monitor the amount of checking and testing that goes on in that food during the passage, through these very complicated supply chains. So transparency is key.
But another thing that’s really important is that like any other type of system, you can check digital systems. You can put information onto a digital system that isn’t true, that isn’t reliable, that isn’t accurate. And this is where science can play a massive role because what we can do is whenever you claim that that something is safe and free from contaminants or some other issue, we can check it. We can monitor it. We can measure it using very, very, low-cost remote technologies, hand-held measurements. And this is something we’ve been doing a lot of in our Institute at Queen’s University, taking testing out of laboratories, and putting it right across supply chains.
So we can see the rice that’s being harvested in India. We can see it being sold in the markets. We can see it being transported. We can see it ending up in a manufacturing facility. We can see it in a retail shop and every step of the way, we can check and monitor. It’s the same rice, and there are no issues in terms of an integrity. That goes right back to where our food comes from because, remember, one of the principles I talked to you about was respecting and protecting our environment and people.
It’s really important that we use these digital technologies and scientific methods to make sure that’s where our food is coming from, and people are being treated properly.
So you’ve heard a lot about the digital revolution. And you know what? Integrity of our food supply system, we’re going to use this a lot more to check and monitor to make sure everybody is doing things properly.

Professor Christopher Elliott discusses some of the ways we can ensure food integrity. In particular, he describes some of the opportunities which technology offers the sector.

In the previous section, we outlined some of the key challenges in the food sector and how these can impact the integrity of our food chain. However, where there are challenges there are also opportunities. The industry, research, government and consumers all have a role to play in helping to ensure the integrity of our food chain.

In particular, the following methods, procedures and innovations are in place or ongoing to ensure the integrity of our food system:

  • Food policy, legislation and regulations
  • Research and evidence based decision making
  • Monitoring and enforcement
  • Analytical Methods and procedures
  • Technology and digitalisation in the food chain
  • Consumer education

In particular, the fourth industrial revolution is becoming an increasingly important area to help us develop a food system that is based on the seven principles of food integrity. The fourth industrial revolution refers to how technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, the internet of things and advanced wireless technologies, among others, are merging with humans’ physical lives. In the food chain, it is helping us to trace and track our foods, and when combined with science, it can help to ensure we are collecting accurate information (e.g. remote sensing technologies).

What we would like you to do

Please share your thoughts on the methods and procedures in place to ensure the integrity of our food system:

  • Do you think they are all important? Why/Why not?
  • Do you think we should increase the use of technology and digitalisation in the food system?

Please note that due to Covid-19, all our video contributors had to record themselves using a laptop or smartphone. As a result, the audio quality is not optimal. We apologize for the inconvenience. Should you want to better understand the video content, we have provided the English audio transcript in the downloads section below.

This article is from the free online

Understanding Food Supply Chains in a Time of Crisis

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now