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Reducing waste in the food chain

Background

The food production system is under increasing stress both from an increase in global demand for food (>50% rise in demand by 2050), and pressures on production (e.g. competition for land/water, environmental change, weeds, pests & pathogens, and soil degradation). Globally it is estimated that over a third of food produced is lost or wasted (ref 1), estimated to be over 15M tonnes a year in the UK alone (ref 2). In addition, there are pre-harvest losses due to disease or sub-optimal agri-ecosystems management. Although food waste will never be reduced to zero – and waste reduction alone will not address the projected future food deficit - this priority is an important component of delivering global food security and our commitment to reducing waste in the food chain (ref 3).

Aim

The aim of this priority is to address issues of food waste through increased efficiencies or interventions which prevent wastage, at any point in the food chain – from "source to stomach". This priority also includes the potential alternative uses for food waste.

Scientific scope

The priority includes research using novel biological and/or novel agri-engineering approaches to:

  • Reduce waste through better manipulation of primary production to meet the needs of processors, retailers, or consumers e.g. to optimise product quality or harvest timing
  • Improve production efficiency through better understanding and management of relevant biological processes e.g. sub-clinical infections, maturation, chemical treatments (e.g. fertiliser, pesticides)
  • Reduce losses during harvest, transport, manufacture or storage, without detrimental effects on product quality or safety
  • Reduce post-harvest waste through better understanding and management of relevant biological processes e.g. prevention and early detection of spoilage, understanding microbial-food interactions, controlling post-harvest maturation
  • Make safe and effective use of food-related bio-waste, from any stage in the food chain e.g. in alternative feed streams, as smart ingredients, from novel decontamination methods, or microbial digestion (ref 4)
  • Reduce, recover or reuse inedible co-products from food production (ref 5)

This priority includes novel research to reduce waste from: food-crops, livestock, aquaculture and microbial food sources. It also includes research addressing efficiencies on-farm (planting, and pre and post-harvest losses) and post-farm gate (including during transport, storage, manufacturing, retail, and in the home). It also includes underpinning science that relates to this priority, where direct relevance can be clearly demonstrated.

This priority excludes work on refrigeration, non-bioactive packaging, transport logistics, producer/consumer behaviour and food economics.

Outputs and impacts

Research will inform future strategies for adapting the food system to be more efficient and sustainable as part of our wider strategy to deliver more sustainable, safe, healthy and affordable food.

Pathways to impact

It is anticipated that applicants proposing research under this priority area should demonstrate translation opportunities to the relevant industrial sectors. Where applicable, proposals should have due regard to the likely impact and uptake of their solution within the agri-food industry and any regulatory hurdles they may face.

Ethical and other issues

Applicants will need to consider any requirements for animal usage (including power calculations), licences, and ethical approval, and should refer to our grants guide. Applicants should also be cognisant of the ethical implications of the generation or use of any novel technologies.

References

  1. United Nations Environment Programme: Food waste facts
  2. Food Statistics Pocketbook 2013 (PDF)

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  3. Strategic Plan 2014 (PDF 3.57MB)

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  4. These sub-themes also have relevance to aspects of our research priorities in ‘New strategic approaches to industrial biotechnology and bioenergy: Generating new replacement fuels for a greener, sustainable future’
  5. These sub-themes also have relevance to aspects of our research priorities in ‘New strategic approaches to industrial biotechnology and bioenergy: Generating new replacement fuels for a greener, sustainable future’