Covid-19 and the UK Food System: Learning Lessons and Building Back Better

A new report exploring the impacts of Covid-19 across the UK food system has been published as part of the Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund Programme, a £47.5M research programme led by UKRI in partnership with BBSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, Defra, DHSC, OHID, Innovate UK and the FSA.

The published report by the University of Exeter focusses on the impacts and consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic across the UK food system through synthesising the emerging results and findings of the various UKRI- funded Rapid Response Projects, as well as other UK-focused Covid-19 and food system related research projects.

The purpose of the report was to understand how Covid-19 had impacted (and how it was continuing to impact) the UK food system with a view to addressing 2 key questions:

1. What can we learn from Covid-19 for transforming the UK food system?

2. How can lessons from Covid-19 help us to build back a better food system for improved human and environmental health?

The report outlines 6 main takeaway points for future resilience in the food system to external shocks. It looks at the lessons learnt throughout this time within the different sectors, and how these lessons should be incorporated into future research in the food system in order for us to build back better.

Dr Steve Guilbert, co-author of the report and Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, said:

Covid shone a critical light on the UK food system and revealed it at once to be both robust and broken.  Supply chains proved, in the main, remarkably resilient but the pandemic also revealed a system riddled with food and nutrition insecurity and significant dietary and health inequalities.  Covid may have receded as a crisis but the need to tackle the issues and injustices it exposed remain as critical as ever.  There are important lessons to be learnt from our experience of responding to Covid, and in the context of the multiple and intersecting global challenges we face, it is absolutely imperative that we learn them.”         

Professor Guy Poppy, Director of the Transforming UK Food Systems SPF Programme, said:

“The Covid pandemic affected our lives in so many ways. The impact on food supply chains was very apparent as supermarkets and other food businesses experienced multiple stresses to their usually seamless operation. This report brings together the diverse research which has been undertaken since Covid started to impact on the world. It also offers insight as to what we have learnt from the outbreak and importantly how this might allow us to be less impacted by future shocks to food systems and supply chains, which seem to be occurring more frequently in the world.”

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