News: Food system mapping exercise reveals cracks in the system

Share on Twitter  Reading time: 2 minutes | 10 December, 2020

Members of the GFS-FSR Programme’s coordination team are part of a research team which has mapped the UK’s food system to reveal the huge economic value of the agri-food sector as well as the multiple challenges it faces.

The Mapping the UK Food System report was commissioned by UKRI’s new £47.5M research programme Transforming the UK Food System for Healthy People and a Healthy Environment. It identifies the key actors in the food system, highlighting their activities and motivations. It outlines the health, social and economic, and environmental outcomes of the food system. An interactive tool accompanying the report allows users to access some of the key data regarding employment, number of enterprises and economic value.

Dr John Ingram of the Resilience of the UK Food System in a Global Context’ (GFS-FSR) coordination team, led the research on behalf of the UKRI programme.

He said: “In its essence, this fascinating report offers two key findings. First, it reveals the often-surprisingly large numbers related to the food sector, from the £121 billon the sector contributes annually to the economy to the 20 million slices of bread thrown away every single day. Second, it highlights negative outcomes of the current food system; these include food insecurity, malnutrition and environmental damage.”

While the findings make clear the economic value of the UK food industry, they also reveal a number of negative consequences in the current system. These include a heavy reliance on imports, skills shortages, poor working conditions, unsustainable production methods and diet-related disease.

Household waste highlighted

Figures related to household food waste reveal the staggering amounts of food disposed of daily in UK homes, including 20 million whole slices of bread, 2.2 million slices of ham and 2.7 million whole carrots are thrown away.

Dr Ingram added that the research has shown there is uncertainty in defining the boundaries of the food system itself, even by those who operate in the sector. “We were also challenged by inconsistent definitions, disparate geographies and aggregated datasets, which all show the need for further work on harmonising our national data in this vital area.”

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