UK embarks on food supply transformation plan

The UK is to undertake a extensive research project to identify the areas of the country’s food systems which can be impacted by a range of tangible and intangible risks.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is to enhance its Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund with a new interdisciplinary project focusing on trade. The move comes as the man leading the project said the country needed to undertake a radical transformation of its food production and importation strategies.

The project, led by the University of Reading, aims to model a suite of factors that influence food imports to the UK market.

It will also delve into the associated interventions that could be implemented to transform the UK food system to improve the dietary health of UK citizens and the health of the environment.

The Transforming UK Food Systems SPF programme is an interdisciplinary research programme that UKRI said will help transform the UK food system within a global context by addressing two overarching questions:

If we put healthy people and a healthy natural environment at the heart of the food system, what would we eat, how would we encourage people to eat it, and where would that food come from? What would we grow and manufacture in the UK and what would we need to import?

In delivering this transformed food system, what interventions would be needed across government, business and civil society?

As well as examining the complex interactions between health, environment, economic and behavioural factors across the food system, the programme also considers the wider needs of different groups in society.

The UK currently imports approximately 46% of the food it consumes, demonstrating the global nature of food supply chains.

“Considering the foods that we might need to import, export, produce and consume is therefore vital if we are to successfully transform the UK food system,” UKRI said.

The University of Reading led project aims to develop a blueprint for a coordinated set of policy interventions to support the transition to healthy and sustainable diets in the UK.

The interventions considered will include:

  • fiscal and trade policy measures
  • food supply and value chain structural innovations
  • industry-led initiatives that can facilitate and support the transition to healthy and sustainable diets

Professor C S Srinivasan, principal Investigator for the successful project based at the University of Reading, said: “The transition to sustainable and healthy diets in the UK will call for a substantial realignment of UK food production, trade and supply chains. A realignment that is consistent with anticipated shifts in consumer demand and environmental sustainability constraints.

“This project takes a whole food systems approach by simultaneously examining the consumption, production, international trade and supply chain implications of the transition.”

Professor Guy Poppy, Transforming UK Food Systems SPF Programme director, added: “The importance of economics, especially trade, in shaping a food system is well recognised. At the time of this call, UK consumers were facing the very real consequences of a change in supply from trade as products like tomatoes became rationed in major supermarkets.

“Both the increase in food prices and the evolving nature of trading relationships affect our food system. As such, they are key drivers in the need to transform the current system for healthier people and a healthier environment.”