Knowledge for better food systems

Fodder: The FCRN food sustainability newsletter

The FCRN’s weekly newsletter on food sustainability, Fodder, rounds up the latest journal papers, reports, books, jobs, events and more. Sign up to receive it here.

Network updates

From the FCRN: 1 April 2020

In Fodder this week

Conserving and building soil carbon could mitigate around 7% of annual anthropogenic CO2 emissions; urban horticulture could provide a significant proportion of fruit and vegetables for city residents, based on a case study of Sheffield; and England spends relatively little on monitoring the quality of soil, compared to water and air.

Featured FCRN publication

This 2006 FCRN working paper assesses the climate impacts of the UK’s fruit and vegetable supply chain. It finds that consumption of fruit and vegetables accounts for around 2.5% of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and that demand for the more GHG-intensive fruit and vegetables is growing.

According to the paper, transport, refrigeration and waste are the supply chain stages with most climate impact. Fruit and vegetables with particularly high climate impacts include air-freighted produce, unseasonal Mediterranean-style produce, pre-prepared, trimmed or chopped produce, and fragile or highly perishable foods.

The least greenhouse gas intensive fruits and vegetables are seasonal field grown UK produce cultivated without additional heating or protection, which are not fragile or easily spoiled.  Overseas grown produce which is reasonably robust, cultivated without heating or other protection and which is transported by sea or short distances by road are also fairly low in their greenhouse gas intensity. 

The paper’s headline recommendations are: 

  • Reduce the air freighting of food 
  • Promote cleaner and renewable technologies in the protected horticulture sector
  • Improve refrigeration efficiency
  • Tackle waste particularly at the household and catering stages
  • Foster behaviour change  

Read the full paper, Fruit and vegetables & UK greenhouse gas emissions: Exploring the relationship, here (PDF link). See also the Foodsource resource Which food products have the highest overall impacts?

Research library

Image: USDA NRCS Montana, Soil Survey, Flickr, Public domain

This paper reviews the evidence base around using soil organic carbon as a climate change mitigation measure. It notes that such climate solutions encompass both increasing soil carbon in soils that have not reached their maximum possible carbon content, and conserving carbon in soils that already have a high carbon content (thus avoiding losses that might otherwise have taken place).

Image: KRiemer, Tomatoes Fried Green, Pixabay, Pixabay Licence

This paper uses a case study of Sheffield, UK, to explore the area of land potentially available to grow fruit and vegetables within urban areas, including both soil-based horticulture as well as soil-free controlled-environment horticulture on flat roofs. 

Image: josemiguels, Conversation Dialogue Interview, Pixabay, Pixabay Licence

This paper, co-authored by FCRN member Christian Reynolds, discusses public engagement at the authors’ ‘Take a Bite Out of Climate Change’ stand, which used infographics, short games and displays of vertical farming and insect-based foods to encourage discussion about the climate impacts of food production.

Image: Engin_Akyurt, Casserole Dish Vegetable Tomato, Pixabay, Pixabay Licence

This systematic review looks at dietary patterns and food sustainability in the United States. It estimates that the healthy US-style diet recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is associated with similar or higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and water use compared to the current US diet.

This report, commissioned by the UK charity Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, assesses a selection of measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. It looks at their potential impacts on biodiversity, climate and resource protection to identify which solutions offer synergy between climate and nature, and where there is a risk of conflict.

This book by Tim Lang examines the state of the food supply chain in the UK, including how the UK’s food system has changed over the past few decades, the ways in which the supply chain is fragile, and how the food system needs to change, particularly as the UK leaves the European Union.

This book by Sarah Bridle provides an accessible outline of the links between climate change and food: both the climate impacts of producing food, and the impacts of climate change on farming.

This book looks at the tradeoffs between mitigating climate change and protecting food security, as well as the effects that climate change has on food production.

According to the Freedom of Information request made by the UK non-profit Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA), the UK government spent only £283,780 on monitoring soil health in England in the year 2017/18, compared to £60.5 million on monitoring freshwater and £7.7 million on monitoring air.

Image: Artem Beliaikin, Brown Wooden Poultry, Pexels, Pexels Licence

This article in the Guardian explores the links between food production and COVID-19. It points out that, while the virus is likely to have been transmitted to humans via a pangolin at a “wet” market in Wuhan, China, the virus may have come to pangolins from wild bats. Some smallholder farmers, the article suggests, began to rear “wild” animals (such as pangolins) for income when their previous livestock farming was undercut economically by industrial farming methods, and may also have been pushed onto marginal land (nearer to forests, bats and the viruses hosted by bats) by industrial agriculture’s expansion.

This blog post from the UK’s Food Ethics Council explores some of the ethical complexities in the food system’s response to COVID-19. It notes that many people are displaying compassion and supporting neighbours during the pandemic. It also argues that other ongoing crises, including climate, nature loss, health and the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal negotiations, must not be neglected.

This blog post from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition sets out the impacts that COVID-19 is likely to have on the food system in both low- and high-income contexts, including impacts on health, livelihoods and the cost of food transport. It also suggests how the food system can be strengthened to mitigate these challenges. See this table (PDF link) for a summary.


FCRN member Bethan Mead is seeking participants aged 18+ and based in the UK to take part in a 10 minute online survey about food and well-being during the coronavirus outbreak. There is a prize draw to win an Amazon voucher that you can enter as thanks for taking part. 

This study is part of the Rurban Revolution project, which is investigating the benefits of upscaling urban agriculture.

For more information and to take part, see here. The survey will remain open until enough responses have been received.

US surplus food distribution startup Copia is hiring an operations and customer support associate to manage food pickups and coordinate drivers and recipients. Candidates should have a positive and optimistic personality, be reliable, have strong written and verbal communications skills and preferably have startup experience.

Read more here. No deadline is specified.

The Knowledge Exchange Unit of the UK Parliament is creating a database of experts and researchers who can provide insights on different aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The following categories of expertise may be particularly relevant to FCRN readers:

  • Agriculture and farming
  • Climate change
  • Countryside
  • Environment
  • Trade
  • Waste
  • Water

Apply to be part of the database here. No deadline is specified.

The US think tank Post Carbon Institute, is offering a free online course exploring the interrelated crises of the twenty-first century, and what citizens, students, and community leaders can do to respond to them.

The course videos cover:

  1. Our converging crises
  2. The roots and results of our crises
  3. Making change
  4. Resilience thinking
  5. Economy and society
  6. Basic needs and functions

Read more here and view the course description here (PDF link). The course is free until 22 April 2020.

This online course, developed by EIT Food, will explore some of the most common food controversies: alternative proteins, palm oil, and probiotics. It will examine the viewpoints of stakeholders and invite participants to reflect on their own food preferences.

Read more here. The course will be available for 16 weeks from 6 April 2020. The course is free to access. 


At this webinar on 2 April 2020, food thinker and author Carolyn Steel will present her perspective on rural-urban linkages, sustainable food systems, and COVID-19's new and ever evolving contributions to the dialogue. A moderated question and answer session will follow the presentation.

Read more here. The webinar is hosted by the European research project ROBUST. See also Steel’s book Sitopia: How food can save the world.

This day-long virtual summit on 6 April 2020, hosted by The Spoon, will discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the food and restaurant industry and analyse solutions for navigating this uncharted new world.

Read more here

This webinar on 9 April 2020, hosted by the British Standards Institution, will discuss:

  1. Current challenges and vulnerabilities facing the food sector
  2. The world’s leading sources of contaminated food products and their contributors
  3. Geographic areas of concern related to food safety, fraud, continuity and social responsibility
  4. How to achieve Supply Chain Resilience
  5. The Supply Chain Stress Test

Read more here

This webinar on 22 April 2020, hosted by the International Bar Association’s Agricultural Law Section, will focus on the role innovative agriculture practices and technologies play in greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation in climate change, and will highlight the legal, policy, and institutional changes that will encourage innovation in developing countries.

Topics include:

  • What is the role of innovative agriculture practices in combating climate change?
  • How can one best jump-start innovation through legal, policy, and institutional changes? 
  • What is the role of the modern legal practitioner in addressing climate change in the agricultural sector?

Read more here