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Transforming the UK food system for healthy people and a healthy environment call

Call status: Closed
Application deadline: 26 November 2019, 16:00


UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in partnership with government are pleased to announce a highly ambitious £25 million call for research to fundamentally transform the UK food system, by placing healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre. Proposals are invited for interdisciplinary research consortia to take a systems approach, linking healthy and accessible diets with sustainable food production and supply to help drive food system transformation. This programme aims to address health, environmental and social challenges simultaneously, bringing together researchers, policymakers, business and civil society to develop evidence for multi-pronged and simultaneous action across the food system.

This call is part of a wider £47.5 million interdisciplinary research programme led by the Global Food Security Programme (GFS) and supported by UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF). The call is administered by BBSRC, in partnership with ESRC, MRC, NERC, Defra, DHSC, PHE, Innovate UK and FSA.


View videos from the launch workshops:



Poor diet is the biggest risk factor for early deaths worldwide, leading to 1 in 7 deaths in Britain every year. Human biology is failing to keep pace with the increasingly obesogenic food environment, with foods high in fat, sugar and salt making up just over half of all meals consumed in the average UK household. Many studies also suggest that our diets lack oily fish, fibre from wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds and we often consume more meat than recommended. If diets continue along the current trajectory, it will increase pressure on our health and social care systems and the environment, leading to economic and social instability.

Although much effort has been made to address the impacts of agricultural practices and promote sustainable production in the UK there is still significant scope, and an urgent need, for change, particularly when combined with transformation of diets for health. It is clear, however, that agricultural production can no longer be addressed in isolation; we also need to consider the role of changing patterns of demand in driving our production systems, especially in terms of how much food and what types of food we need to produce, manufacture and import in the future, and which foods we should prioritise to improve health and sustainability. It is increasingly recognised that we need to move away from a ‘calories per hectare’ approach to one that considers the ‘number of people fed healthily and sustainably per hectare’. This interplay between production and demand, and environment and health, is the type of whole systems research we are looking to support through this programme.

For more information on the background to the call see application downloads below.

Purpose and aims

The Food Systems SPF is an interdisciplinary programme of research that will help transform the UK food system by placing healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre. It will address questions around what we should eat, produce and manufacture in the UK and what we should import. In doing so it will consider the complex interactions between health, environment and behavioural factors, while taking into account wider needs for different groups in society. This will enable a joined-up approach across healthy and accessible diets and sustainable food production and supply, delivering coherent evidence to enable concerted action from government, business and civil society.

Figure 1. An indicative representation of the food system produced by City University of London. For more information on the food system depicted here, see The Centre for Food Policy Brief (PDF)


Proposals are invited for interdisciplinary research consortia to develop evidence to enable food system transformation, linking healthy and accessible diets with sustainable food production and supply. This will require a food systems approach and collaboration across multiple disciplines, for example agri-food, environmental, public health, nutritional and social sciences (including for example expertise in soil science, crop and animal production, aquaculture, biodiversity and ecosystem services, systems engineers, data science, agricultural economics, food science, food manufacturing and processing, food markets, nutrition, biomedical and clinical science, epidemiology, economics, behavioural, social and political science).

As well as being scientifically excellent, the research must take account of and balance the needs of key food system actors, who have a central role to play in delivering transformation. This includes government, business, and civil society organisations, and it is expected that these groups (and other relevant stakeholders) will be fully engaged in the co-design and the co-delivery of projects to ensure food system transformation can be achieved.

Proposals must address two major themes: 1) Defining a transformed UK food system that places healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre; and 2) Delivering food system transformation in the UK. We do not expect consortia to address all stages of the food system however all projects should address aspects of BOTH themes. Some examples of the types of challenges under each theme are provided, but these are not intended to be exclusive. This programme is looking for ideas and evidence for transformational change and how it can be delivered, rather than more research into the problems.

Programme themes

  1. Defining a transformed UK food system that places healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre
  2. Delivering food system transformation in the UK

For more information on the programme themes and examples of how these questions may be tackled see the call text document (see application downloads below).

Project specification

Up to £25 million is available to support pre-competitive research proposals subject to the quality of proposals received, with the aim of supporting an appropriately broad and balanced portfolio. Funds can be requested for up to 5 years and must not exceed £6 million (representing the 80% contribution to the full economic cost). For each proposal:

  1. The research must be led by an eligible academic organisation (see eligibility criteria section below).
  2. The research must be interdisciplinary and join up healthy and accessible diets, with sustainable food production and supply. We do not expect consortia to address all stages of the food system; however, at a minimum, each should address production/processing/manufacturing and consumption, in the context of integrated linkages with other parts of the system, even if these wider linkages are not actively researched. Successful consortia will be expected to work together towards the overall aims of the programme, with research across the portfolio of awards covering the whole food system (see supplementary document for further information).
  3. At the outline stage we expect collaboration with business and civil society organisations (at least one representative from each). Outline proposals must also describe how their research addresses government priorities as set out in the policy drivers section. It should be noted that at the full proposal stage, the research must involve collaboration with a diverse stakeholder group consisting of government, business and civil society organisations. It is expected that these stakeholders will have helped shape the research, with collaboration and two-way knowledge exchange continuing throughout the research process.
  4. Although not mandatory, where possible, proposals are strongly encouraged to include financial or in-kind contributions from business, government or civil society partners, to demonstrate genuine collaboration. Contributions do not need to be secured at the outline stage, but where possible you should include emails/letters confirming a willingness to collaborate on the research.

Proposals that do not meet bullet points i, ii and iii will be rejected (see also research call exclusions in the call text document:

Application downloads

For full information on background, purpose & aims, policy drivers, scope and exclusions see:

For full information on eligibility, how to apply and assessment criteria see:


Launch of call 8 October 2019
Call Launch Workshop - Manchester 21 October 2019
Call Launch Workshop - London 25 October 2019
Closing date for outlines 26 November 2019
Assessment Panel January 2020
Full proposals invited February 2020
Full proposal deadline April 2020
Decision communicated to applicants September 2020
Grants must start before this date 4 January 2021


For any questions relating to your application please email the following address

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