Evolving life sciences and agricultural research approaches may have a decreasing need to access physical resources in future, such as plant seeds or viral material. Information and genetic data may be all that is required for commercial exploitation of biological resources. This POSTnote summarises the challenge this creates for international discussions on the governance of genetic resources and the possible options for addressing these.
Documents to download
A resilient UK food system (499 KB, PDF)
The complexity of the modern food system means that it is vulnerable to a range of shocks and stresses. Examples include a 2008 global food price spike (which saw the price of wheat rise by 130%), a 2018 shortage of CO2 gas that impacted supply chains across the food and drink sector, and panic buying in the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak that led to shops introducing temporary rationing and limited opening hours.
These disruptions have led to calls for a greater focus on the ‘resilience’ of the entire food system, including the need for more joined-up thinking and collaboration to address system-wide issues and problems. In 2019, the UK Government commissioned an independent review to inform a National Food Strategy, and has committed to respond with a White Paper within 6 months of the review’s publication.
- A resilient food system would be robust, able to recover quickly after any disruption and reorient towards more sustainable outcomes.
- Many shocks and stresses threaten the food system, including environmental change, public health crises and political disputes. Some of these threats are increasing.
- There are many possible ways to achieve a more ‘ideal’ food system that is resilient, agile, sustainable and benefits society.
- Increasing the diversity of approaches and actions taken within the food system may be important for building resilience (such as taking actions to boost both local food production and international trade)
- Some possible features of a more resilient UK food system include a more secure food supply, lower environmental impacts, transparent supply chains, healthier diets and improved social outcomes.
- Coordinated actions at all levels of the food system will be needed to achieve this. Policy frameworks could promote collaboration between different actors and improve the monitoring of progress towards resilience.
- Some experts propose the creation of an independent public body to transform the food system. Such a body could work with existing government departments and regulators to better streamline efforts, plan and coordinate any interventions more effectively and continuously monitor the progress being made.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
Tim Benton, Chatham House*
Helen Browning, Soil Association*
Richard Bruce, University of Sheffield, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures
Bob Doherty, University of York *
Jonathan Finlay, House of Commons Library*
Tara Garnett, University of Oxford*
Chris Gilbert-Wood, CGW FoodTech*
Ben Goodall, Food Standards Agency*
Shona Goudie, The Food Foundation*
Corinna Hawkes, City, University of London *
Tony Heron, University of York*
Graeme Heron, University of Sheffield*
Vicki Hird, Sustain*
Isabel Hughes, The Food Foundation*
John Ingram, University of Oxford*
Peter Jackson, University of Sheffield, Institute for Sustainable Food*
Lenny Koh, University of Sheffield*
Tim, Lang City, University of London*
Damian Malins, FERA
Louise Manning, Royal Agricultural University*
Christine McDowell, National Farmers’ Union*
Richard Millan, FERA
Gavin Milligan, Green Knight Sustainability Consulting Ltd*
Jim Moseley, Red Tractor
Helen Munday, Food & Drink Federation (FDF)*
Christian Reynolds, University of Sheffield, City, University London
Courtney Scott, The Food Foundation
Dugald Strathearn, DEFRA*
Christine Tacon, Groceries Code Adjudicator*
Rachel Ward, Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST)*
Richard Werran, British Standards Institution*
Philippa Wiltshire, Red Tractor
Monika Zurek University of Oxford*
*denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.
Documents to download
A resilient UK food system (499 KB, PDF)
Plastic packaging waste has become a key consumer concern. In the UK, over 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging enter the consumer market each year. Much of this is used in the food sector because plastic packaging is cheap, light to transport, hygienic, and can be used to extend the product’s shelf-life. In the UK around 46% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, mostly through local authority collections. However several issues with the current systems of plastics recycling persist. This POSTbrief reviews proposals to Defra and HM Treasury to improve plastics recycling in the UK .
The effect of consumers stockpiling certain goods and the slow reaction of retailers to ration them exposed the limitations of cost-efficient and streamlined supply chains to be agile and adapt to unforeseen shocks. This suggests that changes may be needed to make the supply chain more resilient. Specific problems arose from the closure of parts of the catering sector and the lack of agility in redistributing supplies from this sector to retail outlets or the food donation/charity sector. This was due to challenges in packaging availability, logistics and labelling requirements; leading to an increase in food loss. Agricultural food producers and the wider supply chain may have incurred significant losses from the impacts of COVID-19. Food processing facilities have been responsible for a number of localised COVID-19 outbreaks. This may be influenced by a range of factors, including the proximity of workers for prolonged periods, the need to speak loudly to communicate over the noise of the machines or the shared welfare spaces external to the factory setting. The immediate effects of COVID-19 on the food supply system are the current policy concern, but the longer-term food system issues highlighted as a result of the pandemic will have to be addressed by considering how to build resilience to possible future shocks.