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Grant winners to share almost £2m for food industry research

Five applicants will share a grant of almost £2m to investigate challenges around the UK food system.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed the successful grants of the Understanding the Challenges of the Food System call this week.

Manchester University, Queens University Belfast, Newcastle University, University of Hertfordshire and NatCen Social Research will share £1.87m and start work in September for 24 months.

Predictive computational approach

Jon Spencer, Manchester University will develop a predictive computational approach to modelling food supply chains so that the points where food fraud can occur are identified.

Identifying these points of vulnerability to adulteration within the supply chain will allow regulators and retailers to take appropriate action to avoid food fraud.

“This project will bring together an interdisciplinary team of researchers from analytical sciences, predictive modelling, law, criminology and business studies, and will contribute to consumer confidence and trust in UK food supply chains,” he said.

Analysis of vulnerabilities

Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have received £500,000 to investigate global food fraud and help prevent criminal activity within the industry.

Professor Chris Elliott and Dr Moira Dean from the Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security, colleagues and Dr John Spink from Michigan State University will undertake an analysis of vulnerabilities across important food supply chains.

Professor Elliott said helping to restore consumer trust is a key objective of the work.

“These are causing huge concerns to governmental agencies and to the food industry. Consumers are losing trust in the safety and quality of what they purchase,” he said.

“The current food protection systems are not designed to look for the never-ending number of potential adulterants that may show up in the food supply.

“As criminal activity by design is intended to elude detection, new tools and approaches to the supply chain management are called for.”

He said the project will explore how other countries deal with issues of food safety and analyse legal law cases which relate to fraud.

“Based on an assumption that fraudsters will exploit any intelligence gathering system it will also examine current and potential models of data collection and intelligence sharing and test their vulnerabilities to future fraudulent attacks.

“This will help to develop a novel data collection sharing system that is more robust and secure.”

Professor Elliott and his team will combine theories and methods from psychology, political economy, sociology, anthropology, criminology and law, with natural science disciplines to help determine how fraud can happen and what measures could prevent it in the future.

FSA and ESRC had identified an area of mutual interest around challenges to the UK agri-food system, food safety, food fraud/crime and consumer trust.

Public perceptions

Dr Wendy Wills, University of Hertfordshire, will look at older people's perceptions and experiences of strengths and vulnerabilities across the UK food system.

Caireen Roberts from NatCen Social Research, an independent, not for profit organisation, will use qualitative and quantitative methods along with social media analysis to generate empirical findings on public perceptions of UK food supply chains, what people's concerns are, and what influences these and how they may be best managed in the future.

NatCen will work with the University of Warwick and the University of Westminster as well as Cardiff University’s Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS).

Dr Andrew Donaldson, Newcastle University, will look at the ways in which those involved in the production, processing, retail, management and governance of food anticipate future problems and develop plans to avoid or deal with them.

By investigating these issues the project hopes to draw out realistic lessons for building a more resilient food system.

Professor Paul Boyle, chief executive of the ESRC, said: "The projects that are being funded will deal with priorities such as resilience, safety and security, food price volatility and supply chain management - all of which are recognised as yielding important social science research challenges to be addressed for the mutual benefit of the food industry and consumers alike."

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