The food system is centre stage in projects publicly funded to the tune of £24 million, launched at the end of last year.
Four interdisciplinary research projects received funding through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) addressing:
- sustainable agriculture
- global warming.
They focus on:
- innovations from hydroponics and better supply chains to trialling interventions through action research
- helping communities and individuals to make better, healthier food choices
- transforming food systems in communities with health and environmental inequalities.
Professor Guy Poppy, Programme Director of Transforming the UK Food Systems SPF, said, “Never before has the role of the food system been so centre-stage.
“Major issues facing humanity such as addressing climate change and building back better post-Covid will be essential in improving health and wellbeing.
“I am really excited by the ambitious and transformative projects we have selected for funding – every single person in the UK could benefit from this research.
“We will ensure the best evidence is generated, and offer solutions that transform the UK food system.”
The four projects are:
Transformations to regenerative food systems, Professor Bob Doherty, University of York
This brings together an interdisciplinary consortia of six universities (Universities of York, Leeds, Manchester, City, Oxford & Cranfield) and 21 partner organisations
It focuses on healthy eating for young children, interventions in food retailing and farming, to address obesity, sustainability in agriculture and global warming.
Professor Doherty said, “We are committed to shifting our food system to one which prioritises dietary health in young people, and builds a more diversified hybrid food economy, sourcing produce from farmers who promote soil health, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.”
Healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people (H3), Professor Peter Jackson, co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food, University of Sheffield
Professor Jackson said, “The consortium draws on the combined strength of researchers from Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Cambridge and City universities and a wide range of stakeholders from government, business and civil society.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for cutting-edge research to genuinely transform the health and sustainability of the UK food system.”
The project focuses on arable crops, horticulture, hydroponics and hybrid farms. Also, on the health benefits of biofortification and increased fibre consumption.
Co-production of healthy, sustainable food systems for disadvantaged communities, Professor Carol Wagstaff, University of Reading
Preliminary work has shown that people living in disadvantaged communities have the desire to eat a healthier diet and are aware that good nutrition is closely linked to good physical and mental health.
Professor Wagstaff said, “People who are struggling to put healthy, sustainable food on their tables each day are at the core of this new project. Many struggle, not because they lack aspiration or knowledge about food, but because of the real impact of financial or time poverty.
“Together, we will help to give everyone access to a diet that meets their health needs and which is produced in a way that is good for our planet.”
The work will be jointly carried out between researchers, people in disadvantaged communities, policy makers and food producers to find new ways to tackle systemic issues around food inequalities.
Transforming urban food systems for planetary and population health (The Mandala Consortium), led by Professor Martin White, Professor of Population Health Research in the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge
Focusing on the city of Birmingham, this consortium aims to transform the urban food system and its relationship with its regional economy in the West Midlands.
Professor White said, “The Covid-19 pandemic quickly revealed the fragility of our food systems in the UK.
“Recognised as a wake-up call in part 1 of the National Food Strategy (published in July 2020), we urgently need better understanding of how to transform future food systems so that they are more resilient and provide fairer access to healthier and more environmentally sustainable food for everyone.
“Our research will focus intensely on the city of Birmingham and its 1.2 million residents to generate new evidence on how such system transformation can be achieved. 80% of the UK population lives in towns and cities, and Birmingham offer a uniquely diverse microcosm for our experiment.”