Knowledge for better food systems

Fodder: The FCRN Newsletter

We send out a weekly newsletter which provides an essential round-up of food sustainability-relevant publications, articles, jobs and events. Sign up to receive it here.

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In Fodder this week

This week, research shows that customers might not notice sustainability claims on food packaging, while a paper questions the narratives around sustainable palm oil. A modelling paper discusses the possibilities for reconciling food supply, biodiversity conservation and carbon storage through higher agricultural productivity and optimisation of land use. Meanwhile, reducing marine eutrophication could require changes in diets and farming practices, according to a study. The WHO wants to take trans fats out of the food chain to protect health, and the UK House of Lords reports that food security could be endangered if the UK does not reach a suitable trade deal with the EU.

We also have our usual round-up of events, jobs and other opportunities.

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Research library

Image: Sheep81, Northern White Rhinoceros Angalifu, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Although humans only make up 0.01% of life on Earth by weight, 83% of wild mammals and 15% of fish have been lost since the start of human civilisation, according to a new study. The study also finds that, of all mammals on Earth, 36% are humans, 60% are livestock and 4% are wild mammals, while 70% of birds are chicken and other poultry with only 30% being wild.

Image: Lynn Betts, Runoff of soil & fertilizer, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Structural changes in the food system such as replacing half of animal proteins with plant-based proteins could significantly marine eutrophication in the North-East Atlantic, according to a recent paper. The authors addressed the question of whether Western Europe can reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff to coastal areas without endangering food security.

Image: United Soybean Board, Soybean harvest, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

The paper presents land use scenarios that provide enough food for 9 billion people, biodiversity protection and terrestrial carbon storage while staying inside the planetary boundaries for land and water use. The main features of these scenarios are improved agricultural productivity (through reducing the gap between current and maximum potential crop yields, and replacing some ruminant meat production with pork and poultry) and redistribution of agricultural production to areas with relatively high productivity and water supplies but low existing levels of biodiversity.

Image: Craig, Oil palms in Malaysia, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

This paper outlines the difficulties of governing the complex global palm oil supply chain, examines the narratives around the environmental and social sustainability of palm oil and analyses how power dynamics create a fragmented governance structure for palm oil. The author concludes that the palm oil industry has created a narrative in which only “unsustainable” palm oil production is to blame for negative environmental and social effects, and in which “sustainable” palm oil - and an increase in its production - is presented as being beneficial for conservation and local communities.​

Image: USDA, Man shopping in supermarket, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Shoppers do not notice sustainability rating logos on packaging, according to a report by QuadPackaging and Package Insight. In the study, 60 participants had their eye movements tracked while “shopping” in a retail laboratory. The products they were presented with were fictional brands with logos claiming different levels of sustainability. The logos did not represent a real sustainability standard. While 40% of the participants said that sustainability affects their purchasing decisions, the eye-tracking technology showed that 92% of the participants did not notice the sustainability logos.

Image: George Hodan, Brexit Referendum UK, Public Domain Pictures, Creative Commons CC0

The report “Brexit: food prices and availability” from the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee of the UK House of Lords examines the potential impacts of Brexit on the UK food supply. 30% of the UK food supply is currently imported from the EU and a further 11% from non-EU countries under terms set by EU trade deals.

This book, edited by Anne Barnhill, Tyler Doggett, and Mark Budolfson, provides an overview of the philosophy of food ethics across a range of subject matter. Topics include genetically modified food, animal sentience, vegan and omnivorous diets, body image, global markets and activism.

This open access book, edited by Kate Schreckenberg, Georgina Mace and Mahesh Poudyal, explores the link between ecosystems services and alleviating poverty. Topics include trade-offs associated with land intensification, population dynamics, governance for ecosystem health and human wellbeing, and payments for ecosystems services.

Image: Biswarup Ganguly, Frying Samosas (bn: Singara) in deep oil at Morabad, Ranchi, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set out a strategy for removing industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply. WHO estimates that half a million people die each year because of cardiovascular disease caused by trans fat consumption. Artificial trans fat are found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (a process that gives liquid vegetable oils a higher melting point), while some natural trans fats are found in meat and dairy.

In a feature in Civil Eats, agricultural attorney Jillian Hishaw describes some of the difficulties that black farmers have faced in the US, including systematic denial of loans, exclusion from disaster payments, and lack of official paperwork for land that was passed on from slave owners. Hishaw founded the Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (FARMS) to help farmers who are black or from other historically disadvantaged groups to keep their land.

Image: Beans Proteins, Max Pixel, Creative Commons CC0

Consumers prefer the term “100% plant-based” to “vegan”, according to a survey of US adults. When asked a series of questions including “Which tastes better?” and “Which is healthier?”, more than two-thirds of respondents selected “100% plant-based” over “vegan” (no other answers were available). According to Bark Stuckey (President and Chief Innovation Officer of Mattson, the organisation that conducted the survey), the preference might be because “plant-based” is seen as a positive dietary change, whereas “vegan” is seen as a whole lifestyle associated with deprivation and activism.

Image: Detmold, FIshing boat, Pixabay, Creative Commons CC0

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) hopes to use blockchain technology to make the entire seafood supply chain traceable. Working with tech startup TraSeable, fishing company Sea Quest and blockchain company Viant, WWF is running a pilot project to trace tuna through the supply chain by tagging catches with radio-frequency identification chips and QR codes - which can be scanned by a mobile phone.

Image: Eric Jones, An enclave of grazing land south of Tyddyn Du, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Data visualisations by Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie, published at Our World In Data, show global land use types, changes over time and land use in agriculture. For example, a graph shows that half of the Earth’s habitable land surface is used for agriculture, of which 77% is used for livestock (including both grazing land and land for feed production). For comparison, livestock accounts for 17% of global calorie supply and 33% of global protein supply.​


The open-access journal Sustainability is calling for abstracts for a special issue on governance for climate smart agriculture. The special issue will take a multidisciplinary approach to addressing ways to encourage farmers, agri-businesses and consumers to move towards food and agricultural systems that have lower impacts on the climate. Papers are welcome from these or other disciplines: law, economics, business administration, policy, public administration, sociology and psychology.

For more details, see here. The deadline is 30 May 2018.

The open-access journal Sustainability is calling for abstracts for a special issue on sustainable agribusiness and food supply chain. The special issue will cover sustainability practices throughout the whole food supply chain, particularly stages which are currently under-represented in the sustainability literature, including inspecting, processing, pricing and marketing. Papers are welcome on topics covering theories, practices and policy implications of the ways in which food chain actors can balance different aspects of sustainability.

For more details, see here. The deadline is 1 June 2018.

The Water and Environmental Management Research Centre at the University of Bristol’s School of Civil, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering is hiring a postdoctoral research associate to study climate change adaptation to manage the risks of extreme hydrological and weather events for food security in vulnerable West Nile Delta.

Duties will include mapping the impact of climate change on the area, developing a rainfall runoff model, exploring future changes in flood risk and running a pilot version of an early warning system for extreme events caused by heavy rainfall.

For more details and to apply, see here. The application deadline is 11 June 2018.

The Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield is hiring a research associate to develop a model to simulate household food consumption and wastage over time. The research project will involve collaboration with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Candidates should have a relevant PhD or Master’s degree with experience of simulation modelling.

For more details, see here. The application deadline is 11 June 2018.

The Global Programme Food Security division of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has opened two calls for proposals:

  1. Innovations in city region food systems that can reach millions of people living in poverty, focusing on small to middle sized towns in developing countries, with the ability to be scaled up in the next four years (view the full call for proposals here).
  2. Ecologically sustainable water management for food security and nutrition in agriculture and food systems, focusing on Africa (view the full call for proposals here).

For more details, see here. The deadline is 11 June 2018.

The Good Food Institute is hiring a graduate or undergraduate student for an internship to study consumer acceptance of plant-based and clean meat. Responsibilities will include developing research materials, conducting literature reviews, designing surveys and analysing data. This is a remote, part-time position for 12 weeks.

Candidates should be currently enrolled in a Master’s or PhD programme in the social sciences and be interested in plant-based and clean meat consumer acceptance research.

For more details, see here. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and will be reviewed each week.

The Lancet Planetary Health, an open access journal, is hiring a senior editor to edit, write, arrange peer review and shape the journal into a forum for relevant and practice-changing research. Candidates will ideally have a PhD/MD in a relevant discipline and post-doctoral experience in planetary health. Editorial experience is beneficial but not necessary.

For more details, see here. No deadline is specified.


Future Scales and Bernstein’s Bar will present a discussion evening on 28 May. Attendees can discuss how a sustainable food system might work over a meal made from local and seasonal ingredients. Speakers will include Lynne Davis of the RSA's Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and Ben Mackinnon, founder of E5 Bakehouse.

For more information and to register, see here.

The Footprint Media Group and the US Sustainability Alliance will present a an event on the implications of Brexit for the sustainability of the UK food industry. Speakers will examine the possibility for the UK to collaborate and form partnerships on food sustainability.

For more details and to register, see here. The event is 15:00 until 18:00 on 30 May 2018.

The Future Food Institute will present a discussion event on 7 June as part of San Francisco Design Week. Matteo Vignoli, co-founder of the Future Food Institute will give the keynote speech about human-centered innovation in the food industry, followed by a panel discussion on the future of proteins, food care for food services, agro-innovation and circular food systems.

For more details and to register, see here.

Communicate, a conference for environmental communicators by the Bristol Natural History Consortium, will present an event on plastics and their impacts on ecosystems, ahead of its main conference in October 2018.

Speakers will include Trewin Restorick of environmental charity Hubbub, Daisy Blackhurst of the Soil Association and James Honeybourne of the BBC Natural History Unit.

For more details, see here. View the full programme here (PDF link). Book tickets here. The event will be from 09:30 until 17:30 on 8 June.

The FOOD 2030 conference on 14 to 15 June 2018 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, will discuss the role of research and innovation in transforming food ecosystems, across the four priority areas of:

  • Nutrition for healthy and sustainable diets
  • Climate and environmental sustainability
  • Circularity and resource efficiency
  • Innovation and empowering communities.

For more details, see here, and to register to attend, see here. The deadline for registration is 25 May.