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£2m boost for Belfast firm leading way in food chain protection

By Rachel Martin

The founder of one of the world's largest medical outsourcing firms has given his backing to a Belfast food security start-up with a £2m investment.

Dr Richard Steeves, founder of Synergy Health, has become chairman of Arc-net, and said he believes the firm will revolutionise traceability in the global food chain.

Synergy is part of the FTSE 250 and has become a global success story. The firm offers outsourced medical equipment sterilisation services and was recently sold to Steris for almost $2bn (£1.58bn).

After the sale, Dr Steeves backed a portfolio of early stage companies in a range of sectors.

The latest to receive his backing is Belfast-based Arc-net, which specialises in food chain traceability and analytics.

The firm was founded by Northern Ireland entrepreneur Kieran Kelly in 2014 and has offices in Belfast and Edinburgh.

It works by taking a series of DNA samples from each animal throughout its life and logging the details on a database.

The data is then encrypted with similar technology to Bitcoin. The data will be accessible so that consumers and retailers can track the journey of their food and find out where the animal was reared, as well as the feed and veterinary care it received.

Food security hit the headlines in 2013 when investigations found several meat products sold in the UK contained horse meat. A recent PwC report showed that food fraud costs the industry in excess of $40bn (£31bn) a year.

However, Arc-net hopes that its technology could make concerns like this a thing of the past.

Through a series of samples, it authenticates and tracks food from creation through to consumption. The firm says it counts some of the world's largest food producers among its clients.

Arc-net employs 20 people, but thanks to the investment plans to increase its team to 50 people, with new jobs in areas such as development, data analytics, and sales and marketing.

Mr Kelly, the firm's chief executive, said: "Arc-net's solution gives companies and brand owners the ability to have independent validation of their food quality.

"Our service also increases the information flow across the entire supply chain, which helps ensure authenticity, quality, traceability and compliance, based on Blockchain technology."

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