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New appointment to help find fresh ideas to transform food systems

Guy Poppy

Guy Poppy, Professor at the University of Southampton and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency, has been appointed to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) – part of UK Research and Innovation – on a part-time basis as Programme Director for the recently announced Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) Food Systems programme.

Professor Poppy will bring his academic expertise and experience of working closely with policy makers in government to provide strategic leadership and insight into the development of this programme, which is seeking to build a portfolio of interdisciplinary food systems research.

Announcing the appointment Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair, BBSRC said: “How we produce food and what we consume are fundamental issues that this planet must address. The Food Systems programme, supported by the Strategic Priorities Fund, will seek solutions. We want to transform the UK food system, with healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its core. This is a big task which will need great people to help drive it. That is why we are confident that with the appointment of Guy Poppy, UKRI can play a vital part in this effort.”

Professor Poppy said: “This is a fantastic time to join BBSRC as it works within UKRI and with all its other academic and business partners to deliver the research and innovation that the UK needs. Focusing on food systems, I have been given a great opportunity to unleash the new ideas required to transform the UK food system for human and planetary health and to boost this crucial sector, which currently employs more than 450000 people and annually contributes over £31 billion to the UK economy. I believe that by working in partnership we will find fresh ideas that will make a real difference, which will help address climate change, reduce the health challenges caused by poor diets and help create trust in the food system amongst UK consumers.”

The SPF £25m call ‘Transforming the UK food system for healthy people and a healthy environment’ has just opened and closes on 26 November. Two workshops will be held to communicate more details about the research call and facilitate networking. They will held in Manchester on 21 October and in London 25 October. See more call details.

In a separate, but related call, under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, £20 million is available to transform food production systems, improve productivity and sustainability and help the industry move towards net zero emissions by 2040. See more call details.

Notes for editors

Guy Poppy biography

Professor Guy M Poppy is Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency (UK Govt) and is a Professor of Ecology in Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton.

Career history

  • 2014-present: Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency (UK Govt), UK.
  • 2003-present: Professor of Ecology. University of Southampton, UK.
  • 2012-2014: Director of Interdisciplinary Research. University of Southampton, UK.
  • 2009: Head of Biological Sciences. University of Southampton, UK.
  • 2003: Head of Biodiversity and Ecology Division. University of Southampton, UK.
  • 2001: Senior Lecturer. University of Southampton, UK.
  • 1991: Higher, Senior and Principal Scientific Officer. IACR Rothamsted, UK.

Academic qualifications

  • 1990: DPhil Chemical Ecology. Oxford University, UK.
  • 1987: BSc Biology. Imperial College, UK.

About the SPF £25m call, ‘Transforming the UK food system for healthy people and a healthy environment’

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.


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.

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.

About the Strategic Priorities Fund

The SPF is being led by UKRI to:

  • drive an increase in high quality multi and interdisciplinary research and innovation
  • ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research priorities and opportunities
  • and ensure the system responds to strategic priorities and opportunities.

SPF builds on Paul Nurse’s vision of a ‘common fund’, to support high quality multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research programmes, which could have otherwise been missed through traditional funding channels.