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Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:31 am on 11th February 2020.

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John Cross:

I will leave some of the technical detail to Simon, but in principle, this is how we arrived where we are now. Yes, we have established traceability systems in this country and they work but, as we speak, they still tend to be a blend of paper and digital—sometimes both at the same time. They work but they are high-maintenance. They are sub-optimal and they take a lot of resource to keep them going. They were, of course, designed to hoard data on behalf of statutory obligations, as opposed to share data, so the design principle needed to be completely different.

I think it is fair to say that Government was faced with the reality of having to achieve an IT refresh at some stage, with some fairly urgent timescales. For a long time, industry has wanted to have the benefit of the use of its own data. Data was being collected about the industry, but the industry could not use it to enhance itself.

We came to a moment after the referendum where the industry and Government were faced with a series of scenarios that required them to think differently and start to think together—this is where the principle of co-creation came in—right across DEFRA and all its dependencies, the Food Standards Agency, the Rural Payments Agency and the others, and right across the industry to form a think-tank as to how you design, hopefully, the optimum traceability and information system that enables Government to fulfil its statutory obligations, but better and faster, while allowing industry to start adding value to itself with information.

If it is a matter of exploring global markets, you can evidence a brand vastly better. In the global marketplace, traceability is king. In that area, you have huge opportunity. Similarly, from the viewpoint of the industry looking to eradicate non-notifiable endemic production diseases, again, to tackle disease risk you need information—you need data. As soon as you have got a unique identification of any one animal, the information you can attach to that provides almost endless opportunity.