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£5 million investment to transform the UK's food systems


£5 million investment to transform the UK's food systems
  • New Centre for Doctoral Training to link businesses, government, civil society organisations and academic bodies
  • Next generation of food system leaders to redefine how UK produces, supplies and consumes food
  • 62 studentships to engage with multiple food systems organisations on interdisciplinary research

The Health Survey for England 2017 estimates that over half the adults in England are either overweight or obese.

The attendant health issues that arise from poor diet combined with the COVID-19 crisis and concerns about the environmental impact of single-use plastics and food waste have highlighted the urgent need to transform the UK’s food systems. 

These emergencies present an opportunity for the country to make our food systems more sustainable and resilient to factors such as climate change and world food price fluctuations and ensure safe, healthy, sustainable and affordable food for all.

As the UK’s largest manufacturing sector (£28.3Bn/year), our food systems provide employment and economic growth, affect our environment and shape our landscape, influence our health and wellbeing, and are of great social and cultural importance.

Today, UK Research and Innovation, (UKRI), has announced investment of over £5 million to train the next generation of UK food system leaders who will re-shape how we make, transport and consume our food.

The Partnership for a Sustainable Food Future – Centre for Doctoral Training (PSFF-CDT), led by the University of Greenwich, will convene well-connected food systems actors from local and national government, business and civil society, with the world-leading interdisciplinary research skills and experience of seven leading UK universities.

Professor Melanie Welham, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)’s Executive Chair and Executive Sponsor for the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) Transforming UK Food Systems Programme said:

“Our food systems are complex and interrelated, with inevitable trade-offs between costs and benefits, and competing priorities.

“As the UK changes demographically, technologically and socially, and in the context of grave threats from climate change and pollution, we must train a new generation of leaders and innovators who can bring new ideas, provide evidence, and safeguard values to bring about healthy people, a healthy environment, a healthy economy, healthy animals and a healthy society.”

The £5 million UKRI investment is being matched by £2M of additional funding, meaning it will support a total of 62 studentships. Each studentship will include a placement in a food system stakeholder organisation and research projects will integrate the natural and social sciences.

Professor Guy Poppy, Director of the Transforming UK Food Systems Programme, said:

“The need to transform the UK’s food system is essential as we build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic and try to ensure the health of humans and the environment. It is really exciting that more than 60 future leaders will graduate from the Partnership for Sustainable Food Future – Centre for Doctoral Training (PSFF-CDT).

“The level of engagement with key partners from across the food system fills me with confidence that those graduating will have a wonderful career ahead of them in which they can contribute to a healthier, sustainable and more prosperous UK food system.”

Henry Dimbleby, Independent Lead, National Food Strategy said: 

“The world is finally waking up to the fact that the global food system represents the mother of all sustainability issues. It is responsible for an estimated 20-30% of total greenhouse gas emissions. It occupies half the world’s habitable land, uses 70% of the freshwater we consume, causes three-quarters of all water pollution, and is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss.

“At the same time, treating food related illness is absorbing ever large amounts of capacity of the NHS – with all the personal misery that goes with that.

“We need to train a new generation of leaders to haul us out of this mess, and the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Food Systems looks to do just that. It is a welcome and necessary part of the solution to these deep systemic problems.”

At the heart of this challenge-led approach is a Food Systems Academy. It brings together representatives from organisations aiming to change the way food systems work. They will develop processes based on co-design, co-implementation and co-solution in research and action. 

Further information


UKRI is the largest public funder of research and innovation in the UK, with a budget of over £8bn. It is composed of seven disciplinary research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

We operate across the whole country and work with our many partners in higher education, research organisations businesses, government, and charities.

Our vision is for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally.

Our mission is to convene, catalyse and invest in close collaboration with others to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.

UKRI continues to support the research and innovation community to navigate the transitions associated with the exit of the UK from the EU. To keep up to date please visit our dedicated pages.


BBSRC is part of UKRI, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. 

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. 

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives.

Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. 


The PSFF-CDT has been funded under the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund Transforming UK Food Systems Programme, building on its core objectives of transforming the UK food system for health and sustainability, and recognising the importance of food systems to economic growth and social wellbeing. 

The Transforming UK Food Systems Programme

The £47.5M UKRI SPF programme on ‘Transforming the UK Food System for Healthy People and a Healthy Environment’ is led by the Global Food Security Programme, in partnership with BBSRC, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, Natural Environmnet Research Council, Department Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England, Innovate UK and the Food Standards Agency.

It aims to fundamentally transform the UK food system by placing healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre, addressing questions around what we should eat, produce and manufacture and what we should import, taking into account the complex interactions between health, environment and socioeconomic factors.

By co-designing research and training across disciplines and stakeholders, and joining up healthy and accessible consumption with sustainable food production and supply, this programme will deliver coherent evidence to enable concerted action from policy, business and civil society.

The Strategic Priorities Fund

The Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) is one of the UK’s largest, publicly funded, programmes of work to spearhead multi and inter disciplinary research and innovation.

Established in 2018 and led by UKRI, the SPF aims to:

  • drive an increase in high quality multi and interdisciplinary research and innovation
  • ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research and innovation priorities and opportunities
  • and ensure the system responds to strategic priorities and opportunities.

SPF builds on Sir Paul Nurse’s vision of a ‘common fund’, to support high quality multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research programmes, which could have otherwise been missed through traditional funding channels.

It is funded through the government’s National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

The SPF portfolio consists of 34 programmes with a combined total investment of around £830million.

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