The Digital Food Chain Education, Research, Development and Innovation Institute (DEOKFII) began its operation on 1 April 2020 at the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest, which is the most important institution in terms of professional food chain safety education in Hungary. The Institute is a research and education unit that provides practical support for the stakeholders of agriculture and food economy, while also helping them to enhance their digitalization options and supporting them in their complex, digital technology-based veterinary education.
The University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest has maintained close ties with (veterinary) public healthcare institutions for centuries in the epidemiological and the food safety areas alike. Such activities as the treatment of pet and food animals, pandemic management and meeting the current challenges of veterinary care and public health are all parts of food chain safety. As the Hungarian flagship of veterinary public health, the University still has a key role in constantly improving and keeping food chain safety training programmes up to date. As an essential part of this process, digital opportunities must be integrated into the agricultural and food production system in all areas, in conjunction with veterinary education.
As far as science, agriculture, food economy and state administration are concerned, future vets must be better prepared to utilize the functionality of complex systems, which inevitably requires improved skills in data management and information technology. The Institute aims to function as an internationally recognized professional research hub in the area of food chain related data analysis. Since its foundation, the Institute’s associates have been involved in the activities of 8 international working groups and networks.
By now, the transition to digital technologies has become inevitable in the agriculture and food chain area as well. The agriculture of the near future will be built on precision technologies and sensor-generated big data. In addition to crop management, animal breeding and food industry however, data-driven decision making and operation is gaining ever more ground in healthcare and medicine, too.
Veterinarians involved in the food chain need to meet a wide spectrum of challenges as they are instrumental in generating optimal production output, the prevention and treatment of diseases and epidemics as well as the compliance with the relevant legal regulations. Vets form the common ground among such diverse activities as animal breeding, pandemic prevention and food production. In order to accomplish all these goals, vets must have a comprehensive knowledge about the genetic capabilities and biological needs of animals, while they must also be able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy conditions as well as to prevent, detect and manage health risks. The achievement of these goals may greatly be helped by the diversely sourced data that vets may use for generating complex information.
Future vets will need to be just as well-versed in the world of data as they are in the surgery or the barn. The analysis of the correlation between the data derived from such sources as the sensors set up in the farms, the applications supporting production processes, agricultural management and other systems enables experts to develop solutions to cut costs and to increase production and efficiency.
Data analysis allows for the early detection of symptoms and threats, the treatment of diseases, rapid intervention and monitoring, which may be instrumental in the prevention and effective treatment of epidemics. Experts can utilize data coming from sources outside the animal farms to forecast food chain safety events or new threats. The importance of such forecasts is further underlined by the current pandemic: the research and early detection of new pathogens and new chemical contaminants can actually save animal and human lives.
DEOKFII has identified several potential digitalization projects that the Institute wants to focus on, including early food chain threat detection and new risk identification systems to help economic stakeholders, technological assessment, cost-efficiency and risk-benefit analytical systems or quality management and decision support systems for food chain management professionals.
Using data mining algorithms to search over 40 000 food chain safety related news items in 2020, DEOKFII identified 21 potential new risks, 9 of which are considered as potential new risks at EU level according to EREN. The Institute published 12 cases on its website. Two of these cases were referred to Hungary’s National Food Chain Safety Office, while 11 of the potential new risks were reported to EFSA’s EREN network.
Beside the economic stakeholders, the Institute also cooperates with the authorities to develop digital food chain monitoring subsystems. DEOKFII has also started an international cooperation project to assess the molecular food safety and nutrition physiological impacts on consumers, using data-driven artificial intelligence assisted methods.
In addition to the Hungarian and international experts, the knowledge base and research results accumulated through the Institute’s activity will also be shared with the general public and the non-institutionalized professional partners via workshops, conferences, online discussions and webinars. The Institute aspires to become a central information base that brings the science of food chain safety closer to consumers.