Scientists hungry to deliver food system paradigm shift

Pizza (Image: BBC)

Eight universities in northern England have joined forces to form a scientific powerhouse at the launch of an international food research programme.

The N8 AgriFood partnership will be centred on three themes: sustainable production; resilient supply chains; and improving health.

It is hoped that the five-year partnership will contribute to a “paradigm shift” in the UK food system.

The £16m scheme was launched at a two-day conference in Manchester this week.

UN data estimates that global food production needs to expand by 60% by the middle of the century in order to keep pace with rises in human population and changes in people’s diets.

N8 AgriFood founding director Sue Hartley said: “We cannot grow our way out of this problem; we have to try to change the way that we behave.”

Explaining the thinking behind the formation of the partnership, Prof Hartley added: “To address the challenges of food security, we are going to need a very interdisciplinary programme.

“We are looking at how to grow food more sustainably, to make better use of our scarce water and land resources.”

But, she said, these factors were only part of the issue: “We also need to look at our supply chains and how to make them more resilient to the shocks of sudden extreme weather events or economic turmoil.

“We also need to look at the way we behave as people, as consumers of food.”

She explained that the programme’s vision was to transform food security research within the UK.

Food for thought

Prof Ian Noble, senior R&D director at Pepsico, told the conference that the UK food sector mattered because it was a “significant contributor” to the national economy and looked after 70% of the nation’s land, as well as the seas and the coastlines.

“It often comes as news to people how big and how important the sector is,” he added.

He told delegates – including academics, public officials and businesspeople – they had a “real opportunity to start owing the future of agri-food and what it will look like”.

The university network – consisting of Liverpool, Manchester, Lancaster, Leeds, Sheffield, York, Durham and Newcastle – set up the N8 AgriFood programme to deliver a change in the way the topic was researched.

The institutions hope that combining the world-class research being carried out within the campuses, scientists will be better resourced and placed to meet the programme’s goal of delivering a paradigm shift in food production, supply chain resilience and consumer health.

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