Sunday, March 3, 2024

New research programme to transform food systems awarded £5.8m

A transformative, new research programme that aims to transform food systems across the UK and Ireland was announced at the British and Irish Intergovernmental Conference at Farmleigh House in Dublin.

A new Co-Centre for Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems will bring together world-leading researchers from institutions across Ireland and the UK for the first time, with research expertise in specific areas that are core to food system transformation including food safety, production, nutrition, plant and animal science, behavioural change, data science, food system governance, and the political process of food system transformation.

Funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and industry, the Co-Centre will be managed jointly by Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin (UCD), and working closely with the University of Sheffield which will lead on the integrated UKRI research programme.

Through cutting-edge research and working closely with government and industry, the research team will deliver innovative solutions to drive societal and political change in the transition to climate neutrality by 2050.

The interdisciplinary team aims to lead the way in transforming food systems, and delivering economic and environmental benefits to society. It will transform existing food systems, impacting everything from production to policy and from health to society through its research and outreach activities.

Professor Louise Dye, lead of the integrated UKRI research programme, and Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield, added: “We need to act now to ensure that we develop a robust, resilient and sustainable food system that provides access to healthy, affordable, nutritious food for all.

“The co-centre draws on a huge breadth of expertise from across the three jurisdictions in a transformative interdisciplinary collaboration which will take a one health approach to nutrition security, supported by UKRI from soil to human health.

“The co-centre will accelerate the transition towards a more environmentally and economically sustainable, transparent agri-food sector which provides healthy food for all.  The co-centre will also provide training, education and experiential events to inform the public, academics, industry, policy makers and others about food systems transformation.”

The announcement was jointly made by the Irish government’s Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, UK government Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, and Permanent Secretary at Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Katrina Godfrey.

Professor Aedín Cassidy, Co-Director of the co-centre and Director for Interdisciplinary Research at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “This is an exciting announcement and has come at a crucial time with our existing food systems facing a wide range of challenges. In today’s society, a tenth of our population is undernourished while 25 per cent are overweight, with over a third of the world’s population unable to afford to eat a healthy diet. Add to this, our food supplies are disrupted by heat waves, floods, drought and conflict.

“This funding announcement and the new co-centre it creates, will allow us to do the research needed to address these issues and to develop and test strategies to ensure a safe, transparent, sustainable, resilient food system and enhance the evidence base to realise the transition to healthy diets from sustainable sources.”

Professor Gibney, Co-Director of the co-centre and Director of UCD Institute of Food and Health at University College Dublin, said: “This co-centre will play an important role in transforming our food system to be more resilient, healthy, and sustainable across these islands.

“The co-centre will drive change in the way we produce and consume food, addressing economic, social, and environmental problems to ensure safe nutritious food for all. We need to consider the challenges we face now, and in the future, and provide solutions that will work for us all.”

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