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Great potential for food and health in the Big Data

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Posted November 3, 2015

There is yet untapped potential in the food sector by combining data in the entire value chain from farm to fork. These are the findings of a new report prepared by DTU, SEGES/Danish Agriculture & Food Council, and DI Digital. The report identifies new opportunities to accelerate the development of the Danish food sector with the help of Big Data.

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The food industry could potentially improve productivity by up to five per cent by using Big Data to optimize production, boost food quality and safety, and improve the health of both people and animals. This is one of the findings of the report on Big Data from farm to fork (Big Data fra jord til bord) recently published by DTU, SEGES/the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, and DI Digital.

The purpose of the report is to chart the potential for innovation and growth in the food industry, by utilizing Big Data in a variety of areas, such as the production of pigs, cattle, and poultry. One of the ideas described in the report centres on developing tools for collecting and applying real-time data that farmers can then use to improve the health and productivity of pig herds, and using sensors to optimize feeding strategies and increase health and animal welfare in herds of cattle.

Personal recommendations for improving health
A third idea proposed in the report is connecting information about people’s dietary habits with health through a range of technological platforms in the form of apps.

“Consumer health is one of the areas that stands to benefit from a radically innovative use of Big Data. An increasing number of Danes are being diagnosed with diet- and lifestyle-related illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Currently, these people have to make do with a guide based on broad average considerations. By using Big Data to combine personal data from many different sources, e.g. health data combined with actual diet and exercise habits (perhaps from personal sensors), much more personal recommendations can be given via various technological platforms, thus effecting a value-adding improvement of the quality of life,” says Professor Jørn Smedsgaard from DTU Food.

Big Data increasing competitiveness
The food sector is of great importance to Denmark’s national economy, foreign exchange balance, and—not least—employment. According to Jan Mousing, CEO of SEGES/Danish Agriculture & Food Council, it is therefore important that the sector maintains and strengthens its international position. Big Data can help the food sector progress from efficiency measures to innovation and thus serve as a driver for competitiveness.

Niels Axel Nielsen, Senior Vice President at DTU, explains:
“Using Big Data puts us in a position to make a significant contribution to boosting competitiveness and revenue generation in the food industry. Through this sector development project, we have succeeded in identifying ten research and development projects with specific commercial applications for Big Data, and DTU is looking forward to contributing the overarching technical research in this context.”

New DTU centre for Big Data
In brief, Big Data is about using major volumes of varied data to develop algorithms and mathematical models that create pattern recognition in the data to achieve increased insight and ultimately greater value creation. In order to reinforce research and education in the field of Big Data, DTU is now setting up a new centre devoted to Big Data.

“By establishing this centre, we hope to deploy research into Big Data at DTU and to help develop and maintain a strong selection of courses in the area. The intention is to equip future students to better employ and use new Big Data tools such as sensors, analysis models, and visualizations that will benefit not only the food industry, but also other sectors such as transport and energy,” explains Professor Jan Madsen, Deputy Head of Department at DTU Compute.

Adam Lebech, Industry Director, DI Digital, which is the Confederation of Danish Industries’ association for IT, telecommunications, electronics and communications companies, also sees the potential:

“Big Data holds huge perspectives for society. Using large data volumes will enable us able to map, e.g., behaviour patterns down to the smallest detail. It will provide us with important knowledge about food, which researchers, businesses, and the authorities can use in their day-to-day work. IT companies play a central role as suppliers in this context.”

Source: DTU

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