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Research Network to Help UK Agri-Food Industry Reach Net Zero

A novel network of researchers is set to help the UK’s agri-food industry move one step closer to net zero.

Funded to the tune of £5 million, the network will bring UK researchers together to explore effective ways to support the industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve its environmental sustainability. It will also help the UK’s agri-food industry enhance biodiversity, maintain healthy ecosystems, nurture livelihoods, support healthy consumer habits and minimize the environmental impacts of overseas trade. 

The network will be led by a team of four researchers: Angelina Sanderson Bellamy of the University of the West of England, Professor Tim Benton of the University of Leeds, Professor Sarah Bridle of the University of York and Professor Neil Ward of the University of East Anglia.

According to the latest research, the UK’s agri-food industry is responsible for almost a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Given this significant contribution, it is one industry in which greenhouse gas emissions needs to be addressed if the country is to meet its net zero goals by 2050. However, although the industry contributes to and is affected by climate change, it can also be part of the solution.

The agri-food industry is more than farming alone and involves the whole journey from the farm to the plate and beyond, including manufacturing, retail, consumption and waste management. Any efforts to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions therefore needs expertise from across a range of research disciplines. The agricultural, biological, natural, environmental, physical, engineering, economic and social sciences all have a role to play. 

Led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK Research and Innovation and four of its research councils below, all parties have joined forces to provide the funding for the network.

“The agriculture food system produces nearly a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions. By bringing together a multidisciplinary team and engaging a wide range of stakeholders, this project will explore how the journey from farm to fork could be made more sustainable, helping to meet the UK Government’s strategy for achieving net zero by 2050,” said Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, EPSRC executive chair.

“This is a hugely important and exciting initiative, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to build a network to move the agrifood system towards net zero. Climate change is increasingly recognized as the major threat for humanity. Extreme weather events, likely caused by climate change, are already decimating crop yields,” said Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, associate professor of food systems at the University of the West of England, and project co-lead. “We need to convene action to secure healthy and sustainably produced food for all. The scale and urgency of the challenge means the old ways of establishing and settling upon research priorities will not do. It is vital that researchers and stakeholders come together in a spirit of openness and collaboration, and with real urgency, to mobilize ideas and resources around advancing the transition.”

The funding will run for three years, starting in July 2022.

Source: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)