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UK research community unites to help ensure future food security

11 March 2010

The UK’s main public funders of food-related research and training will today (11 March) join together to launch a new programme aimed at meeting the challenge of providing the world’s growing population with a sustainable, secure supply of good quality food using less land and fewer resources. The organisations will work together through a new programme – Global Food Security – to coordinate and align their research interests. By working together to develop strategy and identify shared goals the partners aim to harness the country’s world-leading research base to help to deliver healthy, sustainable food for all.

Already over 1Bn people globally do not have adequate access to safe and nutritious food. The world faces a potentially even greater crisis in food security as expected global population growth to over 9Bn is coupled with increasing affluence and urbanisation in rapidly developing countries. To meet this, the FAO forecasts that world food production will need to increase by 40% in the next 20 years and 70% by 2050.

Global Food Security will bring together the research interests of Research Councils UK, Executive Agencies and Government Departments to deliver coordinated, multidisciplinary research including agricultural production, resource management, food economics, social sciences and nutrition.

Professor John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, who is speaking at a reception to launch Global Food Security in London tonight, said: “Food security will present a growing challenge in the decades ahead. Recent food price volatility highlights the impacts we will face if we do not respond effectively now to prepare our response. There is the potential for a full food security crisis in the future. The growing global population combined with changing consumption patterns and increased urbanisation, set against the backdrop of a changing climate, means we cannot continue with ‘business as usual’.

“Research is crucial to find ways to sustainably meet the increase in demand for food, and to support healthier diets. This means we need multidisciplinary approaches, fostered through the Global Food Security programme, to increase production sustainably, to ensure a secure supply of healthy, affordable food from less land, less water, fewer inputs and producing less waste and emissions.”

Global Food Security sponsors and partners include five Research Councils, working together as Research Councils UK, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for International Development, the Government Office for Science, the Scottish Government, the Technology Strategy Board and the Food Standards Agency.

Global Food Security is overseen by a Programme Board that will ensure that its priorities are complementary and add value to other cross-government, third sector, business and international initiatives.

Prof Janet Allen, Chair of Global Food Security Programme Development Board and Director of Research at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: “By working together the Global Food Security Partners can ensure that we are coordinating a true national programme in food security research, one that cuts across the partners’ remits. We will be able to address issues across the entire food supply chain, fostering multidisciplinary research and avoiding overlaps or gaps.”

Global Food Security will be made up of four themes: Economic resilience, including trade and competitiveness; resource efficiency, including reducing inputs and improving efficiency; sustainable production, including crops, livestock and farm systems; and sustainable, healthy, safe diets, including food safety and accessibility.

Across all its activities Global Food Security will consider the sustainability of ecosystems related to food production and reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions throughout the food system.

Prof Allen said: “Across the Global Food Security themes we expect the programme to deliver a range of impacts for the UK and beyond. These include increased agricultural productivity, new crops able to withstand drought and disease, greater sustainability, reduced incidence of food borne diseases and a better understanding of socio-economic factors in the food chain.”

Prof Alan Thorpe, Chair of Research Councils UK, said: ”Research Councils UK are investing in research that addresses the grand challenges for society enabling a more productive economy, healthier people and a sustainable world. Global Food Security will work closely with our existing programmes such as Living With Environmental Change, Energy, Lifelong Health and Wellbeing and Global Uncertainties as many of the issues require contributions from right across the research base. Research Councils will work in partnership with other research funders, policy-makers and other stakeholders to deliver the Global Food Security programme.”

Defra Minister Lord Davies said: “We know we need to produce more food in the future and we need to do it sustainably and in a way that is good for our health.

“The Government’s food strategy launched earlier this year made it clear that we need to make changes right along the food chain – from farm to fork – and need to support consumers in making informed decisions about food.

“Bringing the skills and experience of these research funders together will be important in putting in place the practical measures needed to feed the global population in years to come.”

Representing the UK farming community, Peter Kendall, President of the National Farmers' Union, said: "UK farmers are very well placed to provide solutions to food security, globally as well as closer to home. But farming can only deliver if the right research is funded and sustained long-term, and then translated into practice. I am very pleased to see major funders coming together to coordinate the underpinning science. Now that there is high level Government acceptance of the strategic importance of agriculture, the launch of Global Food Security shows a commitment by public research funders to work together on this critical issue." 


Notes for editors

Global Food Security will be launched at a reception in Central London in the evening of 11 March 2010.

About Global Food Security

Global Food Security is a multi-agency programme bringing together the research interests of the Research Councils, Executive Agencies and Government Departments.

Partner and sponsor organisations are:

  • Research Councils UK – comprising:
    • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
    • Economic and Social Research Council
    • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
    • Medical Research Council
    • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Department for International Development
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Government Office for Science
  • Scottish Government
  • Technology Strategy Board

For more information about the food security challenge and Global Food Security visit: