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: 10 July 2019

Plating up Progress? Investor briefing

Earlier this week, the FCRN and the Food Foundation released their first publication from the Plating up Progress? project - an investor briefing on sustainability risks and opportunities for food retailers, caterers and restaurant chains. Read the briefing here and sign up for one of three webinars exploring the briefing here. There will also be a multi-stakeholder conference on 5 September 2019.

In Fodder this week

Scenario analyses could help to envisage future possibilities for food, despite the non-linear and hard-to-predict nature of the food system - converting Irish agriculture to an organic vegan system could produce three times as many calories on 38% of currently used land, argues a report - Feedback investigates the use of wild fish and land by the Scottish farmed salmon sector - and global forest cover could be increased by a quarter without using any current urban or cropland areas.

Featured FCRN publication

This 2015 FCRN think piece focuses on the future of livestock production - or rather on a range of different livestock futures.

It takes as its starting point the observation that while most of us may agree we have a food ‘problem’ there is less unanimity as to what the causes are, what or who is to blame and why. This matters because our views about what causes a problem shape our views on what a solution looks like. The ‘meat question’ exemplifies both the complexities of the problem and the discord it engenders.

It is now largely undisputed that the rearing of animals uses a great deal of our finite land and resources, and contributes to many environmental problems. What is much more in dispute though, is whether these problems are tractable, how the costs of livestock weigh up against the various benefits they provide, how beneficial these benefits truly are and what kinds of solutions are necessary, desirable, inevitable or possible. Different interest groups have different views, based on their particular underpinning ideologies and beliefs.

This paper looks at the different stakeholders in the livestock debate around livestock as well as the narratives and solutions they propose. It constructs four scenarios, each of which imagines a different livestock ‘solution,’ and explores the values that underpin them.

The final part of the paper makes the case for more self-critical, exploratory approaches to research, policy and advocacy.

Read the full paper here (PDF link). See also the Foodsource chapter Focus: the difficult livestock issue.

Research library

Image: Pxhere, Harvest carrot hand, CC0 Public Domain

This paper describes four scenarios that reflect ways in which the food system might change in the near future, based on two main factors: dietary shifts and degree of globalisation. The paper suggests that such scenario analyses can be helpful in envisaging future paths beyond “business as usual”, even when the future of the food system is non-linear and hard to predict.

Image: Marco Verch, Close Up on the Red and Green Apples, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

This narrative review paper explores how understanding of nutrition and public health have changed over time, influenced by developments in science, social changes and policy-making. The paper identifies some major paradigm shifts, such as the identification of vitamins in the early 20th century, and the recognition of the link between dietary patterns and some chronic diseases in the late 20th century.

Image: Max Pixel, Canopy spring beech, CC0 Public Domain

This paper maps the potential for restoring forests across the world, finding that there is room for a 25% increase in forested area without interfering with existing forests or urban and cropland areas. This could store 205 Gt of carbon after several decades (for comparison, current emissions from fossil fuels and cement production are roughly 10 Gt of carbon each year).

The Plating up Progress? project, run jointly by the FCRN and the Food Foundation, has released a new investor briefing, Plating Up Progress Part 1, which looks at the sustainability risks and opportunities that exist for food retailers, caterers and restaurants. 

This report by UK food waste campaigning organisation Feedback examines the use of wild fish and land by the Scottish farmed salmon industry. It finds that the industry, which is largely controlled by six companies, already uses the same amount of wild fish that the whole UK population purchases, and that it would need to use two-thirds as much again to meet its growth ambitions. 

This report from UK animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming sets out its vision of how the UK government can contribute to making the food system more “nourishing, sustainable, equitable and humane”. 

This report by James O’Donovan, chair of the Cork Environmental Forum, outlines the potential environmental, social, and economic benefits of a transition to a vegan agricultural system in Ireland.

This book, edited by David Barling and Jessica Fanzo, explores challenges related to protecting environmental resources while also meeting human nutritional requirements, covering a wide range of subjects relating to food security and sustainability.

This book, by Nicola Randall and Barbara Smith, provides a summary of agricultural ecosystems around the world and uses case studies to illustrate the biological issues and solutions associated with several types of farming system.

Image: Comidacomafeto, Burger veggie vegetarian, Pixabay, Pixabay License

This opinion piece in YES! Magazine, written by Stephanie Feldstein (population and sustainability director at the Centre for Biological Diversity), uses the case of plant-based burgers to explore the tensions between personal environmental actions, industry actions and systemic change.

Over 100 food organisations, including many supermarkets, have signed the “Step up to the Plate” pledge (organised by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to halve food waste by 2030, support a week of action in November 2019, empower citizens and change their individual habits so as to reduce food waste.


Sentinel is an interdisciplinary research project led by the International Institute for Environment and Development, supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund of the UK Research Councils. It is seeking to address the challenge of achieving ‘zero hunger’ in sub-Saharan Africa, while at the same time reducing inequalities and conserving ecosystems.

The Sentinel project team is leading a "Horizon scanning" activity to identify the 100 most critical research questions that would have the greatest positive impact on addressing these challenges and aid in the decision-making process.

Horizon scanning involves asking experts and stakeholders to highlight important questions that need to be answered in order to solve a given problem. The aim of this horizon scanning activity is: “Achieving food and nutrition security, reducing inequality, and preserving terrestrial ecosystems: 100 critical research questions for decision makers in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Participants and organisations that are involved and/or work in sub-Saharan Africa are invited to contribute their questions. Participants do not need to have in-depth knowledge to participate.

Find out more and send your questions now here.  The deadline for submissions is 31 July 2019. 

Berlin-based seed fund Purple Orange Ventures is running the Entrepreneurial Scientist & Engineer Fellowship programme, which provides grant money and mentorship for scientists and engineers to explore startup ideas leveraging science and deep tech to create or support the creation of products that mimic the sensory experience and functionality of animal-based food products. 

Funding of €120,000 for 12 months is available, in addition to coaching and support.

Fellowship candidates should have a PhD or Masters in a science or engineering discipline, and must be living in Europe, UK, Israel or Singapore.

Read more here. The deadline for applications is 1 October 2019, but only five fellows will be accepted, so apply as soon as possible.

Coventry University is advertising a funded PhD studentship on the topic “De-commodifying agriculture – a critical hindsight and foresight analysis of one of the world’s oldest CSAs”.

The research will use a mixed-methods approach to study the Community Supported Agriculture Farm Temple Wilton in New Hampshire, United States. The research questions will be:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of Temple Wilton?
  • How have they developed and what detailed lessons can be learned from a 30-year long term perspective?
  • How does Temple Wilton compare with other CSAs and community led businesses in the world?
  • How can the practical and theoretical lessons learned shape the trajectory of Temple Wilton and, particularly interesting, other community led businesses and the wider de-commodification and transition to a post-capitalist global economy?

Read more here. The deadline is 31 July 2019.


Unilever is hiring an Environmental Sustainability Scientist to conduct research on environmental sustainability, including the evaluation and development of new scientific approaches, methods and models for assessing Unilever’s product portfolio in the areas of Foods, Home Care, and Beauty and Personal Care. 

Candidates should have a PhD or Masters with several years of relevant experience, the ability to apply Environmental Life Cycle Assessment, and good networking, influencing and communication skills.

Read more here. The deadline is 15 August 2019.

Unilever is hiring an Environmental Sustainability Scientist to provide sustainability expertise and life cycle thinking in support of product innovation, supply chain management and brand development. 

Candidates should have a relevant PhD or Masters, the ability to apply Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to evaluate products and services, and generate, evaluate and interpret data used in assessments of environmental impact. Relevant business experience is desirable.

Read more here. The deadline is 15 August 2019.

The call for abstracts is open for the 8th Global Nitrogen Conference, which will be held in Berlin on 3 to 7 May 2020. Topics of interest include:

  1. Nutrition and lifestyles
  2. Agriculture and food
  3. Health, clean water, air and cities
  4. Protecting biodiversity
  5. Observing global challenges, fluxes and interactions between different drivers and pressures
  6. Closing the nitrogen cycle: Innovations for sustainable nitrogen management
  7. Integrated science and policy approaches – Social and public awareness

Read more here. The deadline is 31 August 2019.


Three webinars will explore the first investor briefing produced by the FCRN/Food Foundation project Plating up Progress? The investor briefing looks at the sustainability risks and opportunities that exist for food retailers, caterers and restaurants. 

The webinar dates are:

See also the Plating up Progress? conference on 5 September 2019.

At this event, the global non-profit World Resources Institute will launch its report “World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future”, which addresses whether we can feed 10 billion people sustainably by 2050.

Featured speakers include:

  • Andrew Steer, President and CEO of WRI
  • Laura Tuck, Vice President, Sustainable Development, World Bank
  • Shenggen Fan, Director General, International Food Policy Research Institute
  • Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Vice President of Sustainability, Mars

Read more here. The event is on 17 July 2019. 

This seminar by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University will give insights on sustainable diets and food systems in Vaalharts, South Africa by exploring six different dimensions, namely (1) food security and nutrition, (2) local food structures, (3) environmental sustainability, (4) economic efficiency, (5) socio-cultural aspects and (6) governance.

Read more here. The seminar is on 23 July 2019.

On 5 September 2019, the FCRN/Food Foundation project Plating Up Progress? will hold a multi-stakeholder conference in London for investors, businesses and policy makers on accelerating change in the food industry. Keynote speakers include Henry Dimbleby, who is leading the UK government's National Food Strategy, with input from both food business trailblazers and those providing industry benchmarks. To register your interest, email Will Nicholson.