New project to transform the UK food system through trade

Aerial view of business port with Shore crane loading containers in freight ship.

The Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund has added to its portfolio with a new £680,000 interdisciplinary project focusing on trade.

The successful 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.

To date, the Transforming UK Food Systems SPF programme has invested £40 million in:

  • four large consortia projects
  • a Centre for Doctoral Training
  • 11 smaller action-focused research projects

The new project is an important addition to the SPF programme and will compliment the existing research underway.

The need for change

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

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

Interventions for transformation

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.

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

Making a real impact

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.

Shaping our future food system

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

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.

This latest funding opportunity attracted many high-quality proposals led by leading economists and trade experts. We look forward to working closely with the University of Reading led team and integrating their research into our wider SPF programme.

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