Making provisions: anticipating food emergencies and assembling the food system

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Architecture Planning and Landscape


From animal disease outbreaks, to accidental contamination, food-borne illnesses, and concerns over the provenance or ingredients of foodstuffs, food crises of one form or another are seemingly a regular occurrence. The question that gets asked each time is 'couldn't we have seen this coming?' This project 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 them or deal with them, through forms of precaution, preparedness and pre-emptive action. We will explore how the increasing amount of information generated about food during its production, and the increasingly sophisticated technologies for generating and managing that information, helps or hinders the anticipation and management of food emergencies. We will also look at how those involved in all aspects of food production, retail and regulation form communities and networks to plan for problems and build make a more resilient food system, and whether certain ways of thinking and acting - and the bodies associated with them - come to dominate efforts to stave off future problems. We will do this by observing anticipatory activities and technologies throughout the food system, and interviewing those who try to develop ways to deal with uncertainty including groups who lobby for changes to food governance, industry bodies and government officials as well as those directly handling foodstuffs. By investigating these issues we will be able to draw out realistic lessons for building a more resilient food system.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
Beyond the academic community the main direct beneficiaries of this research are any individual and organisation (public and policy sector, private commercial sector, and third sector campaigning and charitable organisations) involved in the regulation and governance of the food system.

The general public is an indirect beneficiary of the research project through the actions of public and policy sector, private commercial sector, and third sector campaigning and charitable organisations.

How will they benefit from this research?
The main impact will be a contribution to the health and wealth of the nation by helping to conceive of a more resilient, safer food system.

Through engagement activities and written findings available through a dedicated project website the direct beneficiaries listed above and indirect beneficiaries will have a greater awareness and access to information on anticipatory actions in the food chain and its management.

The research will identify current gaps in practice concerning the management of food system risks and anticipatory actions and identify examples of best practice. This information could lead to changes in public policy and regulation or reaffirm the efficacy of existing practice, at national and/or local level. This can provide organisations (public and policy sector, private commercial sector, and third sector) will information to engage in informed debate and subsequently manage food system processes. The benefits may also involve commercial innovation in the private sector if gaps in knowledge are identified. The timings of these impacts are likely to occur in the medium to long term after the completion of the research project and dissemination of findings.

The general public will be an indirect beneficiary via the activities of the organisations involved in the food system (potential changes to policy and regulation impacts on food system practices and population health regarding food safety and contamination and trust in food). Any benefit would occur in the long term beyond the life of the project.


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