Knowledge for better food systems

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26 May 2018

In this IFSTAL blog post, Harley Pope of the University of Reading addresses some of the challenges of thinking about food systems that are too complex for any one person to understand fully.

21 May 2018

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.

21 May 2018

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.

21 May 2018

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.

21 May 2018

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.

15 May 2018

Last year, members of the European Parliament voted to ban palm oil in biofuels in Europe by 2020, citing concerns over deforestation (read more about the environmental impacts of palm oil production here). The Guardian spoke to palm oil farmers in Malaysia who are worried they will lose their livelihood. Some of the farmers were given land by the government in the 1980s and do not use recently deforested land. “Our whole community here totally depends on palm oil… everybody is scared of what is going to happen to us in two years time,” said farmer Hussain Mohamed.

15 May 2018

Creating realistic 3D structure for laboratory-grown meat has been a technical challenge, partly because of the difficulty in getting oxygen to the cells in the middle of a piece of cultured tissue. However, Israeli startup Aleph Farms says it may have the solution.

15 May 2018

London Mayor Sadiq Khan wants to ban the advertising of foods high in salt, fat or sugar on the Transport for London public transport network, in a bid to tackle child obesity. The proposal says “This ban would exclude alcohol”, presumably meaning that alcohol could still be advertised.

15 May 2018

From 7 May 2018, chain restaurants in the US with 20 or more branches are required to include calorie counts on their menus. The rules are part of an Obama-era health care law.

9 May 2018

Helen Adams of the Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) project, to which the FCRN is linked, has written about LEAP’s first public engagement project. The team ran a stall at Super Science Saturday at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History. Members of the public tasted samples of vegetarian sausages and vegan cheese and were asked to sort different food types according to their greenhouse gas emissions.

9 May 2018

80% of children and 95% of teenagers are not eating enough vegetables, according to the Veg Power fund recently launched by The Food Foundation. Veg Power is running a crowdfunding campaign to promote vegetable consumption among children, produce information for parents, develop contacts with industry and write a book of vegetable-centred recipes for children. Supporters include Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

9 May 2018

Researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are developing edible plant cell cultures. They hope that cell cultures of plants such as cloudberry, lingonberry and strawberry could provide health benefits when the conventionally-grown berries are out-of-season or expensive to import. The researchers have experimented with blending the cells into a “jam” to release the flavour, and have designed a prototype of a bioreactor that could be used in the home.

9 May 2018

UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has agreed to buy Asda from US supermarket Walmart. Together, Sainsbury’s and Asda will have a market share of 31% of the UK grocery sector, ahead of rival Tesco. The supermarkets claim that the merger will allow them to lower prices by 10% on many items.

30 April 2018

Several companies are using microbes to improve crop performance. One of them is Indigo, which uses machine learning to identify the microbes associated with healthy plants and then coats seedlings with these microbes. Indigo’s method has increased wheat yields by 15% and cotton yields by 14% in trials.

30 April 2018

Scientists have unintentionally created a variant of a bacterial enzyme that is 20% better than the original at breaking down polyethylene terephthalate, commonly used to make plastic bottles. The researchers were investigating the properties of a bacterium that has naturally evolved to digest plastic.

30 April 2018

UK charity WRAP has launched the UK Plastics Pact, a voluntary scheme which brings together businesses responsible for 80% of the plastic packaging on products sold in UK supermarkets. The pact aims to make 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, among other goals.

30 April 2018

European Union member countries have voted to ban three neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonicotinoids have been linked to the decline of bees and other pollinators. Neonicotinoids will be banned from use in open fields by the end of 2018, but will still be permitted inside closed greenhouses.

24 April 2018

Wired explores the Seawater Greenhouse, which uses solar power to desalinate seawater for irrigating greenhouses, and inventor Charlie Paton’s quest to bring the technology to regions suffering drought and food insecurity.

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