The food system underpins many aspects of our society. It feeds us and shapes the economic, social and natural environments that we live in. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of resilience in the food system. This POSTnote defines resilience and why it is needed, describes what a more resilient UK food system would look like and explores possible ways of achieving this.

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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.

Key Points:

  • 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.

Acknowledgements 

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. 

 

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