Memorandum submitted by Dr Wayne Martindale (SFS 52)


Executive summary

The UK food system is capable of being robust and resilient if the effective deployment of new technology and evidence based consumer information is stimulated and enabled. Ultimately, the equitable supply of food is determined by agricultural production which has proved resilient and robust under many pressures for over 50 years in the UK. There are now new pressures to overcome. It is clear that low crop yields and high food waste will not offer food security and that agronomic and biotechnological applications must have a clear role in developing future food security. Indeed, in some-part, recent increases in food prices have been underpinned by the taut global balance between cereal production (influenced by crop yield) and storage (influenced by waste production). It is likely that limited food supply and the need for an even more resilient supply chain will incite much innovation and this future system must fit with emergent cultural trends defined by consumer and shopper choices. However, the management of world food supply is not solvable as a yield or production issue alone. Nutritional value, consumer behavior and the infrastructure of the supply chain are all of key importance in developing a robust food system. At a global level, it is clear that the only way nine billion will live in harmony with nature and produce enough food to eat is through scientific and technological development; not removing themselves from it altogether. The complexity of our aim to develop robust and resilient food supply chains lends support to the case for the establishment of a new 'centre' or 'focus of multi-disciplinary expertise' that can pool research disciplines to provide information and evidence based research for users across the food chain from farm to shopper. This centre or focus would create the system wide vision for a sustainable food system that is currently lacking. The evidence submitted below considers (1) how current evidence can be used to demonstrate sustainable food production (2) determination of how best to provide evidence based information for consumers or shoppers, and, (3) the requirement to integrate production and waste supply chains.



How robust is the current UK food system? What are its main strengths and weaknesses?


The solutions for achieving a robust food production system are well known and characterised. Indeed, they have recently been evidenced in UN criteria for sustainable food (and biofuel) production (FAO 2008). These criteria are relevant to the UK. Ultimately they focus on the improvement of crop and livestock yields per unit area of land. Achieving this solution represents the most efficient way of lowering greenhouse gas emissions and creating a sustainable supply chain in which producers, processors and retailers can co-ordinate activities effectively (Martindale et al 2008, Martindale and Swainson 2008). As yet, over fifty years of Norman Bourlaug's agricultural legacy have shown us; yet again, that technology can defeat Malthusian attitudes to food security if we are able to implement new innovations to overcome new pressures in our food system.


The evidence provided by the Green Revolutions show beyond doubt that technological improvements in crop and livestock yield are the factors that stimulate the development of a robust food system. Furthermore, the impact of technologies used to achieve this has exposed and characterised potential weaknesses that have been consistently corrected for. These have predominantly included over-supply and the application of technology without effective knowledge exchange. These specific aspects of the Green Revolutions are consistently reviewed in a negative light by NGOs despite the overall impact of them lifting billions of people out of starvation and conserving billions of hectares of land. For example, the recent International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD; http://www. initiated by the World Bank (Geneva) and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (Rome) reported on the potential of agricultural knowledge, science and technology for reducing hunger and poverty. However, the IAASTD also provided an outlook of precaution with regard to new biotechnologies that are largely proven to be safe. It has also exposed serious divisions between those who promote Malthusian attitudes and those who implement sustainable technologies within the global food system (with members of the IAASTD reporting committees publicly withdrawing from the IAASTD process before the assessment was published). These divisions must be considered carefully if a sustainable food system is our goal. Furthermore, the IAASTD report has provided a sense of confusion by seemingly contradicting reported requirements of organisations such as FAO (FAO 2008).


Indeed, such confusion is apparent within the UK food system and represents a potential weakness in aiming for sustainable food production. A resource for tackling such confusions and contradictions is required. Uncorrected, it will result in the inhibition of science and technological solutions entering the food chain. These factors are encouraged by a 'cult of the amateur' (Trewavas 2008), the result is technological development in the food system is being mired in complex regulations, a stifling of innovation from precautionary attitudes and a lack of political will to deal with reactionary activists who, for example, damage agricultural trials. The later is particularly pertinent to the future development of efficient food systems if technologies are to be deployed globally without the threat of vandalism. Science demonstrates GM crops present no significant risk to human health or the environment, indeed, the risk of planting GM crops in the EC is vandalism of property. This situation is not acceptable and with this example in mind, there should be no reason for British farmers and the food industry not being able to adopt the full benefit of biotechnological methods and chemical technologies to the full. Indeed, if they are not adopted with robust regulation, it is likely that the UK food system will not be sustainable.



FAO (2008) Raise farm production to end food crisis - Diouf, FAO Director-General testifies before Italian Parliament. Press release 17 September 2008, Rome

Martindale W, Jones M, McGloin R, and Barlow P (2008) The carbon dioxide emission footprint of food products and their application in the food system. Aspects of Applied Biology 86 (in press)

Martindale W and Swainson M (2008) Developing supply chain innovations - requirements for research and challenges for the food industry. Aspects of Applied Biology. 87, 77-84

Trewavas A (2008) The cult of the amateur in agriculture threatens food security. Trends in Biotechnology 26 (9):475-479





How well placed is the UK to make the most of its opportunities in responding to the challenge of increasing global food production by 50% by 2030 and doubling it by 2050, while ensuring that such production is sustainable?  In particular, what are the challenges the UK faces in relation to the following aspects of the supply side of the food system:- soil quality - water availability- the marine environment  - the science base - the provision of training - trade barriers - the way in which land is farmed and managed


There are currently enormous uncertainties about food production for a projected nine billion people and a rightful desire to remove poverty, the scourge of disease and food insecurity will not be achieved without linking energy, food and waste systems effectively (Martindale and Trewavas 2008). It is clear we must produce more, using what we have more effectively and the agricultural industry has a major dataset that provides a means for us to do this. These data are under-utilised and rarely communicated to the food industry, they are the global Long Term Agricultural Experiments. The UK has the oldest of these at Rothamsted, near London, and Palace Leas, near Newcastle, representing over 160 years of livestock, fodder, roots and small grain crop data coupled with environmental and biodiversity data. Globally, these experiments categorically show us how land can be managed sustainably, using the Brundtland definition of sustainability- essentially leaving resources to our next generations in a fit state. The Long Term Experiments have been exhaustively researched and written about (Rasmussen et al 1998) but rarely communicated to the food industry. Indeed, a US-based project resulted in the first films of the Rothamsted experiments for the agricultural sector (Vorst and Martindale 2003). Furthermore, these datasets need to be linked with economic factors and trade scenarios; this has not been achieved within the UK in any detail yet. The global Long Term Experiments show the development of minimal soil cultivations (not using the plough, where appropriate) can provide huge benefits to soil quality and stimulate soil carbon capture. A major limitation to the utilisation of minimal soil cultivation in the UK is the inability to utilise herbicide resistant crops (Martindale and Trewavas 2008). This situation illustrates the need to remain open minded to new technologies that provide environmental benefits.


A further weakness in aiming for robust food supply is the patchy provision of agricultural and food industry training in the UK that is often at a disadvantage compared to other nations where extension (extended education and Continued Professional Development) infrastructures are pro-active in technology translation, knowledge exchange and networking. For example, the agricultural extension services and agricultural college and university infrastructure of the USA offers specific food and agricultural training excellence that does not exist nationally in the UK. A further example of extension at farm level is provided by the Landcare organisation in Australia (Martindale 2004). The impact of these extension systems and lack of them in the UK, places our food system at a clear competitive disadvantage globally. Indeed, an effectively farm-based extension and training infrastructure that integrates science and technological developments with agricultural and food industry practices could provide the suggested target of 50% increase in yields by 2030. Such an extension system and vision could provide even greater yield benefits throughout the food system if production, processing and retailing were integrated responsibilities for such a service.


An example of the disregard for integrating energy, food and waste systems in food chains is provided by current biofuel policy in the EC which limits our vision with precautionary attitudes and complex regulation (Martindale and Trewavas 2008). There are clear opportunities to apply biotechnology in the development of 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation biofuels from crop and food residues (Martindale and Trewavas 2008a). Achieving this will require a synergistic development of food, waste and energy infrastructure. This is not happening currently at a national level and, in the UK remains proven by lone-innovators who are often working at localised and personal-interest levels within their own businesses. This is unlike the USA where strategic governmental programmes are providing demonstrations of 2nd generation biofuel production from food residues (ligno-cellulosic technologies) and signalling the deployment of a clear 'Billion Tonne Biofuel Vision'. Sadly, as a nation we lack this vision but hold the skills and innovators who would be able to enable it.



Martindale W and Trewavas A (2008) Fuelling the 9 Billion, Nature Biotechnology 26, 1068 - 1070 doi:10.1038/nbt1008-1068

Martindale W and Trewavas A (2008a) Fuelling the 9 billion - a new challenge for biotechnology and agriculture. Aspects of Applied Biology 90, 11-18

Martindale W (2004) Aiming for profitable and sustainable grazing systems: Methods of Integrating Research, Extension and Communication. British Grassland Society and Sir George Stapledon Memorial Trust Fellowship report (2004)

Vorst JJ and Martindale W (2003) Sustainable Land Use: The Broadbalk Experiment (Film production) Sample films of long term experiments at,The Rothamsted Long Term Agricultural Experiments. OECD Cooperative research fellowship report

Rasmussen P E, Goulding K W T, Brown J R, Grace P R, Janzen H H Kőrschens M. 1998. Long-term agroecosystem experiments: assessing agricultural sustainability and global change. Science 282, 893-896





What trends are likely to emerge on the demand side of the food system in the UK, in terms of consumer taste and habits, and what will be their main effect?  What use could be made of local food networks?


Knowledge exchange between consumer, shopper and producer (of farm products and food items) remains an interface where ethical, evidence-based communication is an absolute requirement. The influence of non-evidence based shopper communications has created a situation where nearly 50% of Europeans believe the food they eat is bad for them according to EuroMonitor statistics (Bánáti, 2008). This is a ludicrous situation that must be tackled through utilisation of existing evidence, and, current traceability and surveillance systems including organisations such as the Regional Food Groups (see Martindale et al. 2008 for an initial supply chain assessment in the Yorkshire and Humber region). There is an emergent requirement for an independent centre providing expertise across the food supply chain from farm to shopper that can link evidence based science on environmental, health and economic criteria of foods. Such a centre would be able to effectively link environmental, technical, health and sustainable information about food types and product-types for shoppers and consumers. Such a centre exists for non-food crops (The National Non-food Crops Centre, York); there are no centres like this for food crops that take a farm to shopper viewpoint. Our research shows shoppers understand the health impacts of food products but the issues of environmental impact and food 'miles' are less understood (Martindale and Richardson 2008). Achieving a better shopper understanding of health impacts has been achieved by the FSA 'traffic light' system (Martindale and Richardson 2008). Linking environmental and health impacts offers many challenges to our current research. For example, initial studies linking Global Warming Potential (GWP) and carbon footprints to Calorie content of food products at their point of consumption show us that manufactured products and ready made meals can have lower GWP but highest Calorie content. Placing such findings into environmentally-balanced and healthy-balanced diet scenarios is a challenge for our current work. This research has demonstrated above all else that we may need to separate the requirement to enjoy food from the requirement for sustainable consumption because shoppers will not buy what they do not like eating. This scenario raises the need to determine what 'healthy balance' is in our future robust food system. Our initial research goes some way to define this (Martindale and Richardson 2008).



Bánáti, D. 2008. Fear of food in Europe? Fear of foods in Europe through Hungarian experience.

Trends in Food Science & Technology 19:441-444.

Martindale W and Richardson P (2008) Food and beverage carbon dioxide emissions from producer and consumer - applying and communicating LCA. Aspects of Applied Biology. 87, 85-90

Martindale W, Johnson DM, Jones M, Knight J, Towler M, Fitzpatrick S and Grant D (2008) Project FLOW Report 1: Developing Sustainable Regional Foodscapes MAY 2008




What role should Defra play both in ensuring that the strengths of the UK food system are maintained and in addressing the weaknesses that have been identified?  What leadership and assistance should Defra provide to the food industry? How well does Defra engage with other relevant departments across Government, and with European and international bodies, on food policy and the regulatory framework for the food supply chain?   Is there a coherent cross-Government food strategy?


As cited above there is a requirement for a Centre in the UK food system for consumer and shopper communications that are developed from evidence based information on food production systems. This does not currently occur across supply chains. Currently, cross governmental strategies can be confusing in that they can provide conflicting messages regarding health, environment and economic criteria of food. Knowledge exchange within the food production sectors exists but much of it is currently passive, does not link across sectors (e.g. shoppers, fuel and waste) and much more can be done (see Martindale 2008 for manufacturing industry based examples).



Martindale (2008) Launch of FIT for Food portal (World Food Innovation Forum, Dublin November 2007)


Suggested guidance for criteria Defra should use to monitor how well the UK is doing in responding to the challenge of doubling global food production by 2050 while ensuring that such production is sustainable?


1. Engagement and knowledge exchange between industry, academia and Centres of Excellence

2. Market entry and take-up of technologies and processes that link energy, food and waste systems

3. The ability to export expertise from the UK that implements the food innovations required for doubling food production by 2050 globally

4. World class research as described by University REA and REF actions

5. Improved competitiveness globally for the UK agricultural and food manufacturing industries.

6. Ability for end-users to obtain fast, reliable, evidence based data on agricultural systems and food production. There is significant evidence to show that this is not easily available using the currently established systems.

7. Sufficient infrastructure to support the timely access to evidence based research by research users across the food system.



January 2009