The Government Office for Science published its report UK Cross-Government Food Research and Innovation Strategy in January 2010. The Strategy provides a government framework for food research and innovation across the UK. It was developed by a cross-government group, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and fulfils a commitment from the Cabinet Office’s 2008 Food Matters report.
The Strategy was developed in light of the current challenges facing the global food supply, including how to equitably, sustainably and healthily feed a growing global population, which is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The Strategy is available to download here.
The Strategy sets out key research areas and challenges relating to a sustainable and secure food system. The authors note that the messages in the report are, to an extent, a snapshot of current thinking. The challenges are presented as five themes and all are, to a varying degree, inter-related and overlapping. The five themes are:
- Economic resilience;
- Resource efficiency;
- Sustainable ecosystems;
- Sustainable food production and supply; and
- Sustainable, healthy, safe, diets.
The key research areas and challenges that relate to food and nutrition are identified under the theme ‘Sustainable, healthy, safe, diets’. This theme outlines that food should be produced, processed, distributed and consumed in a society where people make informed choices to eat a healthy diet and are connected to the origins of food and environmental sustainability. Four key issues were identified:
- Healthier food and nutrition, including the need to improve understanding of the links between diet and health, tackling causes of obesity, and understanding what consumers see as an “acceptable” diet.
- Sustainable consumption and healthy eating, including the need to understand the complexities in the relationships and trade offs between sustainable production, consumption and healthy eating.
- Consumer attitudes and behaviours, including the need to improve understanding of the food supply chain by the public through better education and the timely provision of balanced information, and understanding the issues that affect food availability and affordability.
- Food safety, including addressing food safety in a global context across the agri-food chain, and innovative technology capable of increasing shelf-life and maintaining food quality.
The report provides some interesting examples of competing pressures in the food system (see Annex 3), which would require cross-government collaboration to ensure development of coherent policies. Examples include:
- Aquaculture (i.e. fish farming) is currently environmentally wasteful – fish feed contains other fish at a 10:1 ratio of kilogram fish used in feed per kilogram of fish produced. However, increased fish intake is recommended as omega-3 levels are low in the UK diet and oily fish can be a significant dietary source.
- Excessive packaging is generally viewed by the consumer as wasteful and has an additional carbon footprint of its own. However, packaging that reduces spoilage and waste of the food will have a net benefit to overall carbon and water footprints.
The Strategy sets out a range of actions for food research and innovation to help achieve the Government’s goals on food, and progress in its implementation will be reviewed in early 2011.
Many groups are working to address food and climate change issues and to determine what constitutes a healthy and sustainable diet. A number of government departments, academic institutions, food producers, levy boards and consumer groups are working in this area and have published various reports, which are readily available online.
In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has overall responsibility for food and nutrition issues relating to sustainable diets.