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The Global Food Security programme: Ground-breaking research programme to improve health through better diet

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Guy Poppy, Professor of Ecology at the University of Southampton and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency, has had a paper published in Nature,  published a paper, ‘A national programme for transformation of the UK food system’, along with Riaz Bhunnoo – Director of the Global Food Security programme – outlining the aims of the newly-launched 8-year £47.5 million strategic research programme.

The Global Food Security programme, funded by UK Research and Innovation in partnership with government departments, is focusing on transformational change of the UK food system for healthy people and a healthy environment. As UK government develops its National Food Strategy – led by Henry Dimbleby, who spoke at the recent Oxford Farming Conference – the research community can show leadership and vision through research enabled by new and exciting Food systems programmes.

The paper says:

“This ground-breaking interdisciplinary research programme brings together academia, government, business, and civil society organisations within interdisciplinary consortia to provide evidence for multi-pronged and simultaneous action across the food system. The programme aims to improve health whilst reducing diet-related chronic disease, reduce pressure on health and social care systems, align food production systems to health and sustainability outcomes, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts, and ensure future food security.”

The paper also notes that unhealthy dietary patterns are a product of the current food system, with poor diets contributing to 1 in 7 deaths in Britain every year. It also looks at the environmental impact of current food production, saying:

“In parallel to these health challenges, the food production systems that supply current diets are unsustainable in terms of water use, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Around 85% of the UK’s total land footprint is associated with meat and dairy production (both domestic and imports), yet meat and dairy only contributes 48% of our total protein consumption and 32% of total calories.”

Professor Poppy was 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.

Commenting on his appointment to BBSRC, Professor Poppy said:

“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.”

Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair, BBSRC added: “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.”

The paper is available online at the Nature website.

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.

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