An agenda for integrated system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research
An agenda for integrated system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research
Peter Horton 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Steve A. Banwart 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Dan Brockington 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Garrett W. Brown 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Richard Bruce 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Duncan Cameron 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Michelle Holdsworth 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
S. C. Lenny Koh 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Jurriaan Ton 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Peter Jackson 0 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
0 Department of Geography, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
1 Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
2 Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
3 Peter Horton
4 Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
5 School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
6 Plant Production & Protection (P3) Centre, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
7 Management School, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
8 Department of Politics, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
9 Sheffield Institute for International Development, University of Sheffield , Sheffield , UK
10 Present address: School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds , Leeds , UK
This paper outlines the development of an integrated interdisciplinary approach to agri-food research, designed to address the 'grand challenge' of global food security. Rather than meeting this challenge by working in separate domains or via single-disciplinary perspectives, we chart the development of a system-wide approach to the food supply chain. In this approach, social and environmental questions are simultaneously addressed. Firstly, we provide a holistic model of the agri-food system, which depicts the processes involved, the principal inputs and outputs, the actors and the external influences, emphasising the system's interactions, feedbacks and complexities. Secondly, we show how this model necessitates a research programme that includes the
Food security; Land use; Resource management; Crop production; Food production; Food sales; Consumer practice; Nutrition; Public health; Life cycle assessment; Food justice; Agri-food research
study of land-use, crop production and protection, food
processing, storage and distribution, retailing and consumption,
nutrition and public health. Acknowledging the
methodological and epistemological challenges involved in developing
this approach, we propose two specific ways forward.
Firstly, we propose a method for analysing and modelling
agri-food systems in their totality, which enables the
complexity to be reduced to essential components of the whole system
to allow tractable quantitative analysis using LCA and related
methods. This initial analysis allows for more detailed
quantification of total system resource efficiency, environmental
impact and waste. Secondly, we propose a method to analyse
the ethical, legal and political tensions that characterise such
systems via the use of deliberative fora. We conclude by
proposing an agenda for agri-food research which combines these
two approaches into a rational programme for identifying,
testing and implementing the new agri-technologies and
agri-food policies, advocating the critical application of nexus
thinking to meet the global food security challenge.
Conventionally defined as when ‘all people, at all times, have
physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and
nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences
for an active and healthy life’
, food security is
generally acknowledged to be one of the ‘grand challenges’
currently facing humanity. The challenge is neatly summarised
as a ‘perfect storm’ of converging global issues
as the world’s population is set to reach 9.6 billion by 2050
with a quadrupling in the global economy, a doubling
in the demand for food and fuel, and a more than 50% increase in
the demand for clean water
. This challenge is
amplified by the need to stay within the safe operating space for
humanity and avoid catastrophic climate change
et al. 2009)
. The 5th IPCC report
notes the weight
of studies that predict a decline in agricultural production by
2050 due to climate change impacts and summarises the
substantial risk evidence that Europe, Africa, Asia and Central and
South America will experience water shortages driven by
changing climate, leading to declining agricultural production and
increased rural poverty during the coming few decades.
We acknowledge the long track-record of work establishing
the links between food security and global environmental
(summarised by Ingram et al. 2012)
and the numerous
research programmes, including the Rural Economy and Land
Use (RELU) and Global Food Security (GFS) initiatives in the
UK, that have sought to address these issues through
coordinated interdisciplinary research. While many have emphasised
the need to focus on increasing crop yields and improving the
efficiency of agricultural production through ‘sustainable
(Garnett et al. 2013)
, it is increasingly recognised
that the insights of political and social science are as important
as technological advances in agri-food science. As Ingram
et al. conclude: ‘scientific and policy attention has … mainly
focused on increasing total production through increases in
yield [which] arguably risks ignoring people’s anxieties about
sustaining access to food … and the other nutritional, social
and economic aspects of food security’
(Ingram et al. 2013)
Thus, we conclude that achieving adequate food production
whilst ensuring environmental and economic sustainability
and promoting human health and social equity will require
changes in all parts of the food system.
Following the work of
and a recent
comprehensive report from the US National Academies
, this paper charts the development of an integrated
approach to agri-food research, working across the food
supply chain rather than isolated researchers working on separate
parts of the problem. It demonstrates the need for
interdisciplinary research that addresses the operation of both
environmental and social systems (and their effective integration).
While many others are working on these challenges, including
the governance and management issues that arise when
working across scales
(Cash et al. 2006)
, this paper outlines an
interdisciplinary and system-wide approach that seeks to
overcome many of the key methodological and epistemological
challenges faced by existing agri-food research.1 In doing
1 Framing our argument in terms of the ‘agri-food’ system should not be taken
to imply an undue emphasis on terrestrial cropping systems. We also
acknowledge the importance of livestock farming and fisheries, using ‘agri-food’ as a
short-hand for the broader food system.
so, this paper also locates a number of initial successes in
implementing this approach as well as offering insights about
how a system-wide agenda could be moved forward.
A system-wide approach to agri-food research enables
questions of the following type to be answered: what might
be the effect of a change in a particular consumer habit on crop
production, resource use, nutrition and health? What would be
the implications for the food producer, retailer and consumer
of a change to more sustainable and resilient crop production,
through a new plant variety or agronomic practice? What are
the implications for the food security of farmers in poorer
countries of changes to markets, consumption and trade across
global production networks and value chains? How can
changes to land tenure, input pricing, credit, financing and
sales improve the food security of the poorest farmers
internationally? How can food waste be reduced to ensure the most
efficient functioning of the agri-food system? Where are the
pressure points or sites of greatest sensitivity to change?
Where are the ‘hotspots’ in terms of resource use,
environmental effects or waste? How do we adapt agri-food systems
to climate change? How do we present the different solutions
required for each of the huge diversity of crops and locations,
or types and sizes of farms? Which solutions and trade-offs are
most effective, practical and acceptable, and what can be done
to foresee the unintended consequences of proposed
Developing an agenda for agri-food research
Developing a more interdisciplinary and system-wide
approach would involve five steps: 1, describing the agri-food
ecosystem; 2, identifying the research themes that emerge; 3,
defining a quantitative methodology for analysing and
modelling agri-food ecosystems and thereby integrating these
research themes; 4, establishing a complementary methodology
to address the political, ethical and legal tensions within the
ecosystem; and 5, setting out an agenda for agri-food research
that exploits the ecosystem concept to develop innovative
ways to combine these two approaches into an analytical
framework for determining, evaluating and implementing
new agri-food policies and technologies. The remainder of
this paper outlines this approach in more detail, discussing
how it can meet the challenges of interdisciplinary research
and how working across disciplinary domains can have a
transformative effect on each research area.
Describing the agri-food ecosystem
The first step in developing a system-wide approach to
agrifood research is to describe what the system is, what processes
to include and where to set boundaries. From first principles,
the agri-food system comprises all of the processes involved
in producing and consuming food from the capture of sunlight
by photosynthesis in plants, harnessing the ecosystem services
provided by the agricultural landscape that are central to food
production, through the conversion of plants and animal feed
into human food, to the purchase, preparation, consumption
and metabolism of foodstuffs by humans. Our increasingly
globalized agri-food system is characterised by a growing
separation between production and consumption with a range
of corporations and institutions playing increasingly important
Previous attempts to describe the complete system of
agricultural production have included the idea of the
. Under this model, after establishing
a suitable ecosystem boundary, all of the processes and
participants in crop production were defined, allowing material
flows, interactions, inputs and outputs to be described and
analysed. This model was found to be suitable for describing
the whole agri-food system and in previous work we
expanded the range of processes and stakeholders to create an
(Horton et al. 2016)
. The agri-food ecosystem
model was used to create an analytical framework for
improving resource efficiency and sustainability in food supply
chains. This model went through a large number of
modifications arising from its exposure to multidisciplinary experts
including university academics and leaders from research
funding bodies and industry. The updated model is outlined
in Fig. 1: Fig. 1a shows the actors involved, the external
influences, and more detail of the inputs and outputs involved in
food production and consumption; and Fig. 1b shows the
sources of loss and waste, the environmental and health
penalties than can ensue and the environmental and
socioeconomic benefits of the agri-food system. The unifying definition of
waste across the entire system should be noted in Fig. 1a,
which includes inefficiencies at the farm level as well excess
eating as a part of such waste
(Horton et al. 2016)
contemporary agri-food system is subject to many external
influences including the actions of NGOs and pressure groups,
innovations in science and technology, labour unrest and
geopolitical events, together with natural hazards such as flooding
and drought, which can have a significant impact on the
resilience of agri-food systems as was demonstrated by t
This conceptualization of the agri-food system seeks to
integrate: agricultural and land-use strategy; crop production
and harvesting; corporate and farmers’ means for managing
labour, credit, technology and sales; food processing, storage
and distribution; retailing; and purchasing, preparation and
consumption. It demonstrates how losses and waste occur at
all points in the system, illustrating the environmental impacts
of food production and consumption and highlighting the
human consequences of the agri-food system in terms of the
health-related outcomes of dietary decisions (often highly
constrained by socio-economic circumstances). The model is
presented in linear terms but, in practice, agri-food systems are
usually complex networks including significant feedbacks and
interactions (as outlined by
in her work on
conceptualizing food systems). Figure 1a highlights
interactions between the various actors (by horizontal filled arrows),
recognising the importance of consumers in influencing the
provision of food and the various external factors (indicated
by dotted arrows). Figure 1b includes the important feedback
from environmental impacts, which can lead to further losses
in crop yield, increase in food waste and amplification of
health effects (dotted arrows). We also show that the
agrifood system has numerous other outputs besides food for
human consumption, including food waste, animal waste,
nonfood biomass and human sewage. The importance of
representing them in this way is that they can be viewed as a
resource which can be utilised and even fed back into the
system (dotted arrows). Thus, waste can be converted to
energy via anaerobic digestion or processed to recover valuable
resources, such as fertiliser
(Li et al. 2015)
The ecosystem model in Fig. 1 is generic – it can be used to
describe any agri-food system, in any part of the world.
Clearly, different processes would be more important in
different cases. For example, yield losses are more significant in
harsher climatic conditions or in nutrient-poor soils and
postharvest losses rise in low and middle-income countries
because of inadequate storage and inefficient transportation
networks, whereas food waste at the consumer level is endemic
in high income countries.2 Structures may also differ in terms
of the scale of farms, agronomic practices, the nature of the
food industry and so on. But in every case, system-wide
perspectives can be formulated following the principles of this
Identification of research themes
New programmes of agri-food research and development
have been identified through the adoption of this kind of
ecosystem thinking. Examples include the RCUK and N8
agrifood resilience programmes.3 Our formulation identifies five
inter-connected research domains: Land Use and Resource
Management; Crop Production and Harvesting; Food
2 Throughout the paper we employ the World Bank’s definition of high,
middle and low-income countries, sometimes referred to as HICs, MICs and LICs
(see http://data.worldbank.org/about/country-and-lending-groups, accessed
3 In collaboration with Defra, FSA and the Scottish government,
BBSRC, ESRC and NERC have allocated £14 m for research on
the resilience of the UK food system in a global context
9 December 2016
). The N8 agri-food programme has a £8 m budget
from the HEFCE Catalyst fund (with matched funding from the eight
partner universities), organised in three research strands on sustainable
food production, resilient supply chains and improved consumption
and health (http://n8agrifood.ac.uk/, accessed
9 December 2016
climate & geographic location
political & socio-economic influences
fertilisers, seeds, agrochemicals, electricity
fuel, water, machinery, labour, chemicals,
Animal waste, food waste, biomass,,
biofuel, human sewage
ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC BENEFITS
Land management, recreation, soil conservation, climate change mitigation, economic
development, trade, poverty reduction, employment, nutrition, dietary diversity, wild life habitats
pests & pathogens
poor shelf life
ground water depletion, soil degradation, eutrophication, GHG emissions & climate change,
biodiversity loss, deforestation, pollution, drought desertification, resource depletion, excess
type 2 diabetes
Fig. 1 Diagramatic representation of the agri-food ecosystem (a). The
agri-food ecosystem consists of four processes: 1. Agricultural and Land
use strategy, 2. Crop production and harvesting; 3. Processing, storage
and distribution; 4. Retailing and consumption. These are controlled by
various interacting stakeholders. Inputs and outputs are described,
including resource recovery and recycling. The whole system is under
the influence of a range of external factors. Consumers feedback through
their influence on stakeholder behaviour and the external socio-political
factors. b The impacts of the agri-food ecosystem, the environmental and
health penalties, and the various benefits emanating. Shown are
the losses that occur at each process stage, with the concept of
physiological inefficiency, yield gaps, post-harvest loss, food
waste and excess consumption all considered under a general
heading of “waste”. Note the important feedback of environmental
impact upon all stages of the agri-food system, increasing both the
waste and the ill-health impacts
Processing, Distribution and Sales; Food Consumption; and
Nutrition and Public Health (Fig. 2). Clearly there are overlaps
and synergies among these five domains in that they combine
to address the three fundamental aspects of food security i.e.
Farming and Agri-technology; Food Business and Retailing;
and Food Choice, Diet and Health. A range of research
questions have been identified in each of these five domains and it
is clear that, due to the highly interconnected food supply
system, the answers to many of these questions depend on
understanding events and processes taking place in other
domains. Asking questions within the framework proposed in
Fig. 1 also has a transformative impact on the framing of
questions within each domain as we now seek to illustrate.
In Land Use and Resource Management research a
principal objective is to understand the pressure on global land and
soil from the demographic drivers of increasing human
population and wealth as well as related pressures on other
resources such as water. Providing space for building puts
pressure on the land available for agriculture, and both squeeze out
land needed to maintain habitats and biodiversity
. Meeting the projected demand for food by 2050 is
estimated to require an additional 320–850 Mha of productive
. However, it is impossible to consider land
use issues in the absence of knowledge arising from other
research domains. Land area predictions are dependent upon
future dietary patterns that become associated with high and
middle-income country economies and some 540 Mha could
be saved by 2050 through the global adoption of a vegetarian
diet compared to the predicted global average diet associated
with increasing prosperity
(Tilman and Clark 2014)
Furthermore, future crop yields, dependent in part on the
introduction of new crop varieties and improved agronomic
practices, determine how much more land will be needed,
whilst the requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
from agriculture will inevitably restrict further marginal land
(Godfray et al. 2010)
. Finally, future scenarios for
climate change mitigation indicate the need for increased use
of biofuel crops, creating potential tension in land allocation
and threatening food production
(Reilly et al. 2012;
Searchinger et al. 2015; Phalan et al. 2016)
. All of this
indicates the need for detailed, high resolution data on global land
use patterns and change: linked monitoring, mathematical
modelling and forecasting of the integrated environment and
agriculture production system
(Banwart et al. 2013)
capability of geospatial ground-based and remote sensing of
environmental conditions in real-time then links dynamically
to computational simulation of environmental processes for
forecasting of ecosystem functions and services. This
methodology will deliver the capability to design and operate land
management for food production.
Demand for land is additionally complicated by the fact
that intensive agriculture is putting enormous pressure on soils
. In the past quarter of a century, around 25%
of the Earth’s productive land has been degraded, primarily
through the loss of soil organic matter
(Bai et al. 2008;
and accompanying depletion of soil fungi
(Helgason et al. 1998; Cameron 2010)
. The rate
of soil degradation is highly dependent not just upon
agricultural practice but upon the frequency of extreme climatic
events. Therefore, research is being directed to understand
how to prevent further soil loss by rebuilding communities
of beneficial soil microbes in agricultural soils and
encouraging the adoption of novel agricultural management strategies
that restore soil ecosystem function
(Cameron et al. 2013)
important element of this research is the collaboration
between scientists and farmers, deploying scientific knowledge
about soil conservation in farming practices
In poorer parts of the world, food security of small-scale
farmers reflects not just lack of land, but lack of access to
credit, farm inputs such as fertilisers and adequate labour.
These can be intensified by their occurrence at key times of
the year in crop production cycles. Therefore research needs to
explore how small-scale farmers manage labour, credit and
Fig. 2 A programme for
integrated agri-food research,
showing the five core areas of
investigation (dark grey), which
together address the issues of
farming and agri-technology,
food business and retailing, and
food choice, diet and health
(white). Two overarching
research activities span the core
areas (light grey). For further
details refer to the text
Mapping, analysing and modelling of whole agri-food systems
Land use and
Food business and retailing
Ethical, legal, and political tensions in agri-food systems
social networks to improve farm productivity, as well as
examining how they combine agricultural livelihoods with
nonagricultural work to improve food security (Arndt et al. 2016)
Research in Crop Production and Harvesting has
traditionally been confined to the study of the physiology and
genetics of crop plants, establishing new crop varieties,
discovering new agrichemicals and devising improved agronomic
methods. There is a continued need for such research, and there
are global initiatives aimed at delivering increases in yield
potential of the major cereal crops
(Murchie et al. 2009; Furbank
et al. 2015)
. Similarly, reducing the yield gap is an active
research target since many crop yields have reached a plateau or
are even decreasing
(Foley et al. 2011)
. Increasingly, however,
agricultural research is driven by wider concerns, such as:
predicted yield reductions through the effects of climate change
and severe weather events
(Lesk et al. 2016)
; greenhouse gas
emissions associated with the manufacture of nitrogen-based
fertilisers and pollution of water courses through run-off
(Zhang et al. 2015; Goucher et al. 2017)
; and external
economic and geopolitical events in connection with another
constituent of fertiliser, phosphorus, because it is a finite global
(Dawson and Hilton 2011; Syers et al. 2011)
increasing the availability of nitrogen and phosphorus to plant
roots via soil microbe activity has emerged as another research
target (Cameron 2010). Similarly, research on pests and
diseases, a second major factor in the yield gap, is assuming
new urgency as a result of many external factors, including
resistance to agrochemicals, the effects of climate change and
efforts to conserve biodiversity
(Lamberth et al. 2013)
many effects of climate change it is thought that LMICs will
be most affected. For example, research has focussed on
combatting one of the major threats to rice production in Africa,
infestation by the parasitic weed Striga spp.
(Rodenburg et al.
. Because of concerns over soil degradation discussed
above, any improvements in yield have to take place through
conservation agricultural practices, such as no tilling and other
measures such as retention of crop residues and crop rotation
(Pittelkow et al. 2015)
. To help meet all these agricultural
challenges requires that new discoveries in plant science are
efficiently and quickly translated into application. Moreover, it
requires that the end–users - farmers and agribusiness - work
closely with plant scientists during project development,
equivalent to that occurring in translational medicine
so that new discoveries are properly integrated with
complementary improvements in agronomic practices.
Many of the required improvements in crop plants can be
brought about through genetic manipulation, particularly
significant where conventional breeding techniques cannot be
used to introduce the desired traits
(Davies et al. 2009)
However, the use of GM crops remains controversial
(Jacobsen et al. 2013)
, and collaborations between scientists
and social scientists are crucial to understand the reasons
underlying the hostility towards this technology in some sections
of the public. This becomes even more relevant in the light of
the latest advances in gene editing technology, such as
CRISPR-Cas9, which are conceptually different from
conventional GM techniques
(Song et al. 2016)
. Hence, introducing
new agri-technologies is not straightforward even if scientific
and technical barriers can be overcome. As will be discussed
further, the issue of GM foods exemplifies the fact that social,
political and ethical considerations have to be taken into
account, where the methods outlined in “An agenda for agri-food
research: research gaps and future challeges” section may be
useful. Failing to address these issues can lead to inefficient
translation of new technologies that have high potential to
increase sustainability and efficiency of crop production.
There is consequently a requirement for integrated research
approaches in which all the repercussions of new
agritechnologies are considered including discovering the changes
in cost, resource use, suitability for storage or processing,
appearance, taste and nutritional value of the products of new
crops, as well as public perception of benefits and risks.
Informed by an integrated agri-food perspective, research
on Food Processing, Distribution and Sales has two aspects.
In wealthier countries, the effects of retail concentration and the
increasing complexity of food businesses and their lengthening
supply chains are key priorities. In poorer countries many of
these also apply, but, in addition, researchers are concerned
with how farmers collaborate and work collectively to improve
returns from their activity and access credit and important
inputs. In the global North this matters because food retailing is
highly concentrated, dominated in many countries by a small
number of companies who exert very strong power over their
suppliers, often driving down prices
. Lower profit
margins and higher volumes from a more limited supplier base
encourage the drive to lower prices and increased sales,
creating a vicious circle of dependency. Conversely, in the global
South, access to higher value export and urban markets can
depend on the ability to aggregate crops from large numbers
of smaller-scale farmers. Thus, food business cannot be
disentangled from farming and agriculture. Research also needs
to address the growing disconnection between the points of
production and consumption which has been held responsible
for consumer detachment from where food originates, how to
prepare it safely and how to avoid waste
(Cook et al. 1998)
horsemeat incident,5 which became a highly
publicised news story revealing perceived failures in the food
4 The Food Standards Agency’s recent summit on Our Food Future (February
2016) highlighted a link between convenience and connection where it was
argued that an increasing reliance on processed food led to a growing sense of
disconnection between food producers and consumers (https://www.food.gov.
9 December 2016
5 The discovery of horsemeat in processed beef products sold by a number of
UK supermarket firms drew media attention to the length and complexity of
food supply chains (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21335872, accessed
supply system, also highlighted the potential costs of lengthy
and complex supply chains in terms of a lack of transparency
and potential loss of consumer trust
Legislation and official guidance, often regarded as undue
interference by retailers and suppliers, has been used to promote
healthy eating, but may lead to further uncertainty and anxiety
as can arise from consumer confusion over the proliferation of
product labelling and expiry dates
. This further
emphasises the need to take a whole systems approach when
predicting the likely impact of food policy changes.
An integrated approach to agri-food systems demonstrates
how research on Food Consumption should seek to connect
the behaviour of consumers, as individuals and groups, to the
systems of provision that make food available to them and to
explore the consequences of their (often highly constrained)
food choices in terms of social, environmental and health
effects.Food is also fundamental to people’s sense of identity,
intimately linked to notions of gender, class and ethnicity and
important in symbolic as well as material terms
Current trends in food consumption in the global North are
unsustainable whether measured in terms of public health,
environmental impacts or socio-economic costs
(Moomaw et al.
and there are clear links between socio-economic status,
dietary intake and health outcomes at every geographical scale
(discussed in the following section). The conventional
approach to the challenges of ‘over-consumption’ in HICs has
been to advocate a range of behaviour change initiatives, based
on the assumption that increased consumer knowledge will
lead to desirable changes in attitudes and behaviour.6 But, as
the Foresight report on ‘Tackling Obesity’ recognised, ‘policies
aimed solely at individuals will be inadequate’, emphasising
the need for ‘wider cultural changes’ involving coordinated
action by government, industry, communities, family and
society as a whole
. Acknowledging the socially
embedded character of much consumer behaviour
, with many dietary decisions being habitual in
nature, research is increasingly exploring the routinized
character of consumer practice and the institutions and
infrastructures that underpin it
(Warde 2005; Delormier et al. 2009)
Evans’ (2014) work on domestic food waste demonstrates,
food is deeply implicated in our everyday lives and household
food practices are highly conventional in character, reproduced
through domestic routines, institutional systems and enabling
infrastructure. Initiatives that are designed to promote healthier
and more sustainable modes of consumption need to address
the socio-technical systems that enable and constrain them
rather than focusing exclusively at the individual level
et al. 2012)
.7 Consumers’ changing tastes and preferences also
6 For a critique of this approach to behaviour change, see
7 Public procurement of food for hospitals, schools and other institutions may
also offer significant potential for encouraging dietary change with benefits for
health and sustainability (cf. Sonnino 2009).
shape other parts of the food system (as discussed below in
terms of the health consequences of dietary change). Finally,
consumer research illustrates how diet-related decisions raise a
host of ethical challenges and complex trade-offs which may
seem insuperable in principle but which are ‘negotiated into
practice’ by consumers on a daily basis
(Watson and Meah
. So, for example, consumer preference for organic food
(on health or sustainability grounds) may be traded off against a
desire for local food (produced via intensive farming methods
but with fewer ‘food miles’) – or the immediate demand to feed
one’s family in the most economical way may trump more
abstract ethical commitments to ‘distant strangers’ in far-off
(Jackson et al. 2009)
Nutrition and Public Health research is traditionally
studied in isolation from the rest of the agri-food system.
However, more recently the inter-relationships between
nutrition and food production have been investigated, particularly
in the context of climate change, growing populations and
urbanisation. For example, the SUNRAY study in Africa
(Lachat et al. 2014; Tirado et al. 2012)
has highlighted the
importance of prioritising research into what works to prevent
malnutrition (in all its forms) by evaluating community
nutrition interventions. The public health landscape is likely to
become even more complex as countries, especially LICs,
face environmental threats from climate change, food scarcity
and water shortages, as well as socio-demographic and related
dietary changes, where increasing wealth is leading to
widespread dietary change, making interdisciplinary working
(Holdsworth et al. 2014)
. The research
agenda needs to reflect this, broadening to include the impact
of diet on the natural environment as well as the impact of
environmental change on all components of food security
(Tilman and Clark 2014).
An integrated approach to agri-food research also draws
attention to the impact of social and political conflicts on
health and malnutrition. Environmental change can
exacerbate under-nutrition by limiting the capacity to grow food.
Extreme weather events (such as droughts and flooding) can
contribute to volatile food prices
(Godfray et al. 2010)
in some cases, to food riots, civil unrest and increased hunger.
When food and water become scarce there is increased chance
of war and conflict
, while the FAO
acknowledge that armed conflict is one of the main causes of hunger in
LMICs. These compound factors pose multifaceted public
health and nutrition challenges which can only be addressed
by interdisciplinary research in which all of the components
depicted in Fig. 1 are simultaneously considered.
Integrated agri-food research also faces the challenge of
feeding the 805 million people suffering from hunger
and the 2 billion people suffering with a micronutrient
deficiency (including iron, vitamin A and zinc), mainly as a
consequence of a monotonous diet
(Webster-Gandy et al.
2012; WHO 2001)
. A second public health challenge is
dietrelated non-communicable disease - a major problem in HICs
but now increasing in LMICs
(Ebrahim et al. 2013)
particularly in urban areas due to changing dietary habits and
(Delpeuch et al. 2009)
. The ‘nutrition transition’
also poses significant public health challenges, signalling a
shift in the structure of the diet towards more energy-dense
foods, a higher consumption of ultra-processed convenience
foods and animal protein, a lower intake of high-fibre starches,
fruit and vegetables, and an increase in the total quantity of
(Popkin et al. 2012)
. This diet is more
carbonintensive and obesity-promoting
(Stern 2006; Tilman and
, raising concerns about the health and
sustainability challenges of an increasing reliance on ‘convenience’ food
(Jackson and Viehoff 2016). Serious concerns have also been
voiced about the impacts of a worldwide growth in meat
consumption not only on health but also on the sustainability of
the global agri-food system
(McMichael et al. 2007;
Holdsworth et al. 2014; Clonan et al. 2016)
meatbased diets use more water, primary energy, fertilizer and
(Marlow et al. 2009)
, generating more greenhouse gas
emissions than plant-based diets. Hence, research needs to
focus on both under- and over-nutrition, including the
interrelationships between them, acknowledging the social and
physical environments that drive people’s dietary habits.
Quantitative analysis and modelling of agri-food ecosystems
The above discussion clearly shows that sustainable food
security solutions will depend upon knowledge that drives a
step-change in innovation, which spreads throughout
agrifood systems. To achieve this goal requires a systems
approach, designed to quantify and integrate all of the relevant
processes and components involved
(Hammond and Dube
2012; IOM and NRC 2015)
, increasing the visibility of the
upstream and downstream processes shown in Fig. 1.
Globalscale models of the agri-food system have been proposed
(Foley et al. 2011)
and these have contributed to the
development of national and global agri-food policy. However, a
methodology that can be routinely applied to specific
agrifood systems is also needed. Such methodology would not
only enable analysis of their efficiency and sustainability but
also, most importantly, prediction of the effects of specific
interventions and changes.
One way forward involves the development and
application of the method of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is
used extensively in industry to identify ‘hotspots’ in
greenhouse gas emissions
(O’Rourke 2014; Hellweg and Canals
and has been applied to food supply chains
2014; Goucher et al. 2017)
. An example of such methodology
is the Supply Chain Environmental Analysis Tool (SCEnAT),
a robust supply chain life-cycle analytical modelling tool
which integrates Traditional LCA and Environmental
Output LCA, quantifying the environmental impact of
(Guinee and Heijungs 2011; Koh et al.
2012; Horton et al. 2016)
. Environmental Input-Output LCA
offers the advantage of an extended system boundary,
equivalent to the agri-food ecosystem concept in Fig. 1, in which all
the inputs and environmental impacts can be estimated. The
notion of an integrated process is central, based upon the
mapping of whole agri-food systems, their quantitative analysis
based on enhanced LCA, the use of emergent data to catalyse
viable and commercially attractive innovation and the free
access of data to all stakeholders and, in particular, consumers
as the principal engine for change
(Horton et al. 2016)
This approach will only succeed if there are equally high
levels of input from all the parts of the agri-food system
denoted in Fig. 1. Detailed agricultural models have to be
combined with equally detailed supply chain models, together
with quantitative representations of food consumption and
nutrition. This requires collaborative research across the five
research domains described in Fig. 2. There are many
challenges including: setting system boundaries in terms of what
to include and exclude; identifying and gaining access to
robust sources of data from primary suppliers (farmers and
agrifood businesses); and seeking acceptable proxies for inputs
where quantitative data are unavailable. Research is needed
to develop and refine these tools, to allow incorporation of a
range of environmental impact indicators and to quantify the
demand side of the supply chain. Combining the insights of
qualitative research, often at the micro-scale, in ways that are
compatible with the epistemological and methodological
assumptions of macro-scale models also needs to be recognised
and addressed. Thus, can we: analyse patterns of human
behaviour, such as those that determine food preferences;
measure the health penalties and benefits in a way that is useful in
terms of supply chain analysis; quantify environmental
impacts across the food chain in a unified and robust way that
allows monetization? Recent work elsewhere gives cause for
optimism including: quantitative analysis of ecological
functions (ecosystem services) through monetization
et al. 2013)
; developing integrated environmental impact
indices (O’Rourke 2014); and defining agricultural yields in
terms of people nourished per hectare
(Cassidy et al. 2013)
Ethical, legal, and political tensions in agri-food ecosystems
In order to achieve a truly integrated analysis of agri-food
systems, a method of quantitative analysis and a modelling tool as
described in the previous section is necessary but insufficient.
Understanding the ethical, legal and political issues that shape
agri-food systems is also required. Integrating insights from the
political and social sciences into agri-food research is crucial
because food security will require more than the examination
of food production and consumption from a purely scientific or
technological point of view. This is because questions regarding
the distribution of the ‘goods’ associated with food systems
involve inherently political decisions necessitating research on
complex decision-making processes. Understanding the
inherently political dimensions of the agri-food system is also required
because various aspects associated with food security, including
the inconsistencies of national and supra-national policy-making
over issues such as dietary guidelines and food subsidies, are
potentially in tension, demanding practical as well as ethical
trade-offs due to limited resources and unequal access to them
(Gottwald et al. 2010; Zollitsch et al. 2007; Lang and Heasman
. Good examples of such tension are use of corn (maize) as
a biofuel feedstock, driven by government incentives, which
reduces that available for food, with the potential to drive up
prices (Tenenbaum 2008) and the clearing of tropical rainforests
for oil-palm, which resulted in health risks from the fire-related
air pollution that has ensued
(Sukhdev et al. 2016)
Acknowledging these challenges, a methodology is required
for examining how different interest groups negotiate and
ethically balance the use of resources including how they are
distributed, consumed and sustained for future generations. The
development of such a method is outlined in “An agenda for agri-food
research: research gaps and future challenges” section.
An integrated approach to agri-food research is ultimately
concerned with justice, since theories of social justice offer us
first principles by which to determine ‘who gets what and why’
in any socio-economic or political system
(Allen 2008; Clapp
. Research on global food security must also address
larger ethical and practical questions about substantive and
procedural justice (both domestically and globally) and a resulting
just distribution of food system-related benefits and burdens.
As Fig. 1 illustrates, every level of the agri-food system is
subject to political influence. This is true in terms of agricultural
regulation, public health policy, environmental standards, food
waste programmes and policy incentives. It also applies to the
political-economic dimensions of food security including the
capitalist structures that govern global food production and
(Morgan et al. 2006)
. Decisions about how to respond
to food security concerns will have considerable moral/ethical
implications. Such ethical considerations must be taken into
account within any heuristically viable approach to agri-food
research. Long-term, politically legitimate solutions will
necessarily involve better understandings of existing food-related
political structures, processes and alternatives.
An agenda for agri-food research: research gaps and future challenges
In sections “Describing the agri-food ecosystem” and
“Identification of research themes” we have described the
complex nature of the challenges and research questions that
are contained in the agri-food ecosystem. We have shown how
finding solutions within each of the research domains that
emerge from this ecosystem view is highly dependent upon
understanding processes occurring elsewhere in the system, as
well as on a host of external factors. “Quantitative analysis and
modelling of agri-food ecosystems” section demonstrated that
a systems-wide approach provides a quantitative methodology
for discovering the most effective and efficient interventions.
“Ethical, legal, and political tensions in agri-food ecosystems”
section then established that understanding how to devise and
deliver sustainable agri-food systems is wholly dependent on
resolving the competing political and ethical influences upon
it. In this section we ask whether these latter two research
approaches can be brought together to provide a means for
more fully integrated agri-food research.
One potentially viable method is to examine the
socio-economic, political and ethical factors at each nodal interface
along the food supply chain
(Helmsing and Vellema 2011)
In doing so, political science can offer established methods for
performing stakeholder analysis, mapping existing ‘regime
complexes’ and generating ‘ethical audits’ related to the
various tensions among and between the parts of the agri-food
ecosystem. The conceptual similarities between this approach
and LCA are obvious – only the outputs differ. By locating
these nodes (conceptually equivalent to ‘hotspots’ in LCA
terminology) and through the use of innovative techniques
for collective decision-making (such as deliberative fora),
political scientists can offer viable methods for bringing
stakeholders together to discuss, debate and communicate current
tensions, with the aim of generating legitimate solutions that
can be viewed as ‘just’, or at least ‘more just’ than present
systems. These sorts of methods are not only heuristically
valuable in terms of research impact, but are more legitimate,
since studies suggest that trade-offs and radical policy
solutions will be considered more legitimate when those affected
were deliberators within decision-making processes and when
procedures for reaching a final decision were open, clear and
based on reliable information flows
We propose that this analytical approach should be
combined with the systems analysis approach that incorporates
environmental and social impacts, exemplified currently by
LCA, monetization of ecosystem services and other
quantitative methods (Fig. 3). This dual approach could be employed
to research a potential new agri-technology or to determine the
likely effectiveness of a new policy or regulatory regime on
the health and environmental sustainability of diets. An
iterative multistep process of description, analysis and reflection
would take place, expanding and formalising this theoretical
(Horton et al. 2016)
. First, the new technology or
policy would be formulated within the whole agri-food
ecosystem context, mapping its components, processes and
boundaries (as outlined above). It would then be subject to
LCA. The data and evidence emerging from this analysis
would be made available to all stakeholders for further
analysis. This would involve two further stages of analysis:
Life Cycle Assessment
Fig. 3 A schematic representation of how the proposed research agenda
would work to develop a new agri-technology or agri-food policy. LCA
first produces evidence and data, which then stimulates further testing and
modelling, discussion, debate and deliberation that together inform
refinement of the technology or policy. For further details refer to the text
simulation modelling and experimental testing to fine tune the
technology or policy; and debate and discussion, through
deliberative fora and public engagement.
As suggested above, a promising mechanism for
generating reflection and consensus among stakeholders in cases of
evidence complexity and entrenched interests is through
targeted ‘deliberative fora’, where multisectoral stakeholders
and representatives within the agri-food system can be guided
through a series of policy options and solutions. Through the
use of deliberative methodologies, stakeholders would be
steered to ‘reason give’, explain positions, present and reflect
upon evidence (subjective and objective – with fact checking),
and asked to offer their own insights for creating fair policy
solutions in the light of existing competing positions and LCA
findings. The key to deliberative fora therefore is to task
stakeholders to better rationalise their positions so as to allow
opportunities for constructive agreement toward an ‘all points
considered’ or ‘more points considered’ policy solution.
Although still experimental, deliberative fora have generated
successful results in research trials in Canada, Australia and
the United States, covering empirically complex and
interestentrenched areas such as environmental policy, welfare
allocation, health care and public infrastructure spending
. In this way, integration of these methods
would inform modifications to the technology or policy.
The revised technology or policy would then enter further
cycles until it is shown to be competent to deliver key
objectives. Consequently, a more integrated agri-food research
methodology that adopts a system-wide approach and takes
the role of politics seriously would not only assist the mapping
out of existing bottlenecks involved in reforming agri-food
systems, but would also offer innovative methods to effect
the type of deliberative political change necessary to
implement agri-food advances by securing ‘buy-in’.
Of course there are significant barriers to the implementation
of such methodologies, both singly and even more so in
combination. The supply chains for the production and consumption
of most food products are long, complex and inherently
fragmented. Beyond the layer of primary suppliers, they are
often unknown even to the businesses involved
. Farmers grow crops, the food industry processes and
distributes the produce, retailers sell and consumers purchase
and eat the food. These actors are not integrated in their
decision-making. Cross-sector relationships between these sectors
are usually driven by economics alone and can exacerbate
adverse environmental and health impacts, for example by
promoting increased use of some resources and agrochemicals,
increased waste and excessive consumption of unhealthy foods.
Furthermore, having identified a system-wide solution to a
problem does not resolve the question of where responsibility lies for
implementing it. According to the principles of extended
producer responsibility, all the actors in the supply chain should
(Lenzen et al. 2007)
. But several questons
remain. Is our approach feasible within the structure of the
agrifood system? Can all the actors necessary for an effective
deliberative forum be brought together? Will all the data needed to
provide evidence of the required precision, uniformity and
transparency be forthcoming? Such obstacles need to be overcome if
the potential benefits of system-wide agri-food research are to be
realised. Taking the example of GM discussed above, the
processes of scientific analysis and testing have previously often
been divorced from the public discourse about risk and ethics. If
the two processes were brought together as represented in Fig. 3,
the conflict might be resolved – or at least the competing
interests would be rendered more transparent such that trust between
science, technology, government and public might be restored.
A second key barrier is the major conflict embedded in the
agri-food system. The primary purpose of the food producing
sectors is to make money not to provide sustainable global
food security, the definition of which includes access to
nutritious food (Trudge 2016). For example, high agricultural
productivity, necessary for farmers, agri-businesses and food
retailers to make a profit, whilst also keeping prices low for
consumers, currently requires environmentally unsustainable
farming practices. The drive to increase yields of corn and
sugar cane leads to increased use of sweeteners, with
consequent health effects. The environmental and health impacts of
these practices are not costed within the system and thus, there
are currently no effective incentives to implement the required
improvement. For the reasons given above, regulations are
often ineffective and have unforeseen consequences. Thus,
even if rational, evidence-based solutions could be generated
from the research approaches we are advocating, would they
Research is therefore urgently needed to find ways to
incentivise all sectors of the agri-food system towards delivering
(Haddad et al. 2016)
. This could include the
following: refocusing agriculture upon nutrition by redirecting
agricultural research away from a small number of cereals towards
crops with higher nutritional value, such as pulses, vegetables
and fruits; redefining agricultural metrics
(Sukhdev et al. 2016)
for example in terms of people nourished per hectare rather than
(Cassidy et al. 2013)
; increasing the demand for production
of healthy food by encouraging change in consumer practice;
devising practical ways to incorporate externalities into the cost
of food to take into account environmental impact; and extending
our understanding of the link between diet and environment
(Tilman and Clark 2014) with more high precision investigations
of the environmental impact of particular food products, with
sufficient granularity to reach firm conclusions and identify
(Horton et al. 2016; Goucher et al. 2017)
This paper has outlined the development of an integrated
approach to agri-food research in order to address the complex
challenge of food security. It has sought to map the agri-food
system, to identify its component parts and to argue the case
for approaching the system in an integrated way rather than as
a series of separate domains. We have shown how taking this
approach transforms the framing of research within each
domain and we have proposed two ways of taking this agenda
forward, through the application of quantitative analysis
(using LCA and related methods) and through the recognition
of the ethical, political and legal tensions that characterise the
system (using deliberative fora). We have also identified some
of the methodological and epistemological challenges of
taking these ideas forward, acknowledging some of the barriers
to their practical implementation.
Our approach might also be thought of in terms of the critical
deployment of ‘nexus thinking’
(Leck et al. 2015)
, an approach
that is being advocated in the UK through parallel research
programmes from the ESRC and EPSRC and in a range of
international initiatives.8 Rather than seeing energy, food and
water resources as separate systems, nexus thinking addresses
the inter-dependencies, tensions and trade-offs between these
different domains, similar to the approach taken in this paper,
8 ESRC has invested £1.8 m in its Nexus Network programme (http://www.
thenexusnetwork.org/ ), while EPSRC has invested £4.5 m on as similar
programme, focused on safeguarding the UK’s food, water and energy
Similar programmes are being developed in the US by the National Science
Foundation (https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2016/nsf16524/nsf16524.htm). There
is a Future Earth Network on the nexus
(http://futureearth.org/future-earthwater-energy-food-nexus) and an urban-focused nexus call from the
(https://belmontforum.org/sustainable-urban-globalinitiative-sugi-food-water-energy-nexus, all accessed 9 December 2016).
moving beyond national, sectoral, policy and disciplinary silos
to identify more efficient, equitable and sustainable ways of
using scarce resources. While some have criticised the concept
as little more than a contemporary ‘buzzword’
and others have promoted the value of
nexus thinking in methodological terms (Stirling 2015), we are
keen to put the concept to work through practical applications
that explore the links between food, energy and water security at
a range of geographical scales.9 Consistent with the idea of
nexus thinking, this paper has sought to outline an integrated agenda
for system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research, capable of
addressing the global challenges of enhanced food security.
Acknowledgements All the authors (except SAB) are part of the
University of Sheffield Sustainable Food Futures (SheFF) research group
or the P3 Centre of Excellence in Translational Plant Science, which both
contribute to the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures. GWB
acknowledges the intellectual contributions of Drs Hayley Stevenson and
Alasdair Cochrane. The authors wish to thank all members of SheFF for
advice and discussion. We acknowledge, in particular, valuable
discussions with Professors Tim Benton (RCUK’s global food security
champion), James Wilsdon (Director of ESRC’s Nexus Network) and Chris
Tyas (Head of global supply chains at Nestlé).
Author contributions PH and PAJ devised, planned, edited and
revised the paper. All authors wrote individual sections of the paper and
assisted with the final revisions.
Compliance with ethical standards
We have no competing interests.
Funding JT receives funding from an ERC consolidator grant (no.
309944Prime-A-Plant) and a Research Leadership Award from the Leverhulme Trust
(no. RL-2012-042). PAJ receives funding from the ERA-Net SUSFOOD
programme (no. FO0459). RB is supported in part by the Grantham
Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. SAB was supported by
catalyst funding from The University of Sheffield Vice-Chancellor’s Office.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative
C o m m o n s A t t r i b u t i o n 4 . 0 I n t e r n a t i o n a l L i c e n s e ( h t t p : / /
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give
appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the
Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
sustaining resources. He led the EC Framework Programme 7 large
integrating project Soil Transformations in European Catchments which
established an international network of Critical Zone Observatories for
soils research. He is an invited co-author of an emerging issues chapter
Benefits of Soil Carbon published in the United Nations Environment
Programme 2012 Yearbook. He led the Scientific Committee on the
Environment international rapid assessment project on Benefits of Soil
Carbon and is the lead editor of the resulting 400-page authoritative
compilation of state-of-knowledge and innovation in policy and practices.
Dan Brockington is Director of
t h e S h e f f i e l d I n s t i t u t e o f
International Development at the
University of Sheffield. His
research covers the social impacts
of conservation, relationships
between capitalism and
conservation, the work of media and
celebrity in development and long term
livelihood change in East Africa.
H e h a s w o r k e d m a i n l y i n
Tanzania and also South Africa,
Australia, New Zealand and
India as well as conducting global
overviews of the social impacts of
protected areas, media and conservation and continental wide
examinations of the work of conservation NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa. Dan is
happiest conducting long term field research in remote areas but also
learns much from studying plush fundraising events. He has published
Celebrity Advocacy and International Development and has also written
Celebrity and the Environment, Nature Unbound (with Rosaleen Duffy
and Jim Igoe) and Fortress Conservation and co-edited (with Rosaleen
Duffy) Capitalism and Conservation.
Garrett W. Brown is Reader of
G l o b a l E t h i c s an d P o l i t i c a l
Theory in the Department of
Politics at the University of
Sheffield. Graduating with a BA
in Political Science in 1996 from
the University of California
Berkeley, he also holds a law
degree from UC Berkeley Boalt
School of Law as well as a MSc.
and Ph.D. from the London
S c h o o l o f E c o n o m i c s a n d
Political Science. After holding
postdoctoral positions at Queen
Mary University and the London
School of Economics, where he worked on mapping global
institutions and governance, he became lecturer at the University
of Sheffield in 2006 and is currently the Director of the Centre
for Global Justice and Food Justice. He has published widely on
issues of global distributive justice, global health policy,
cosmopolitan ethics, international law and global governance. He has
recently finished a three-year multi-country research project on
global health financing mechanisms and has currently launched a
five-year project titled Global Food Justice.
Richard Bruce has substantial
experience of working with and
developing global food supply
chains, and has developed an
extensive network across the sector.
His in-depth first-hand
knowledge of the supply-chain issues
facing the global agri-food and
FMCG sectors results from
working across business in the UK and
China, and in academia. He spent
s i x y e a r s a t H a r p e r A d a m s
University, where he established
the DTI Enterprise Unit before
founding his own business
consultancy, working on strategic issues facing major suppliers and retailers,
and interfacing with government and industry bodies. He is a Fellow of
both the Royal Society of Arts and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and
Transport. At The University of Sheffield, from where he holds a Masters
Degree in Business Administration, he teaches supply chain accounting
to Masters students, and is the Business Engagement Lead for the
Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures. His research examines the
power-risk-trust triad in supplier relationships with retailers, and how
those relationships are affected by the adoption of certain tools, such as
open book accounting.
Duncan Cameron is Professor of
Plant and Soil Biology in the
Department of Animal and Plant
Sciences at the University of
Sheffield. He is co-director of the
P3 Centre of Excellence for
Translational Plant and Soil
Biology. He currently holds a
R o y a l S o c i e t y U n i v e r s i t y
Research Fellowship at Sheffield
where his group investigates the
physiology and chemistry of
plant-microbe interactions. After
receiving his BSc in Biology from
he University of Sheffield in
and his PhD in Plant and Soil Science from T
he University of
Aberdeen in 2004
, Duncan undertook post-doctoral research in
Sheffield and at the Julius von Sachs Institute, Würzburg, Germany.
held a NERC fellowship (2007
–2010). He was
promoted to Senior Research Fellow in 2012 and to Professor in 2015.
Duncan is subject editor of the journal Plant and Soil as well as a member
of NERC’s peer review collage. In 2013, he chaired the Royal Society
Frontiers of Science meeting in Beijing, China and won the World
Economic Forum’s Young Scientist Award, awarded to “the best
scientific minds who play a transformational role in integrating scientific
knowledge and technological innovation to improve the state of the
world” for his work on the microbiology of agricultural soils.
SCEnAT used by leading industry. Externally, she is Chair of the
Sustainability Partnership for Business, Innovation and Skills, working
with government and industry.
Leverhulme Trust (2013) and receives additional PI funding from
BBSRC and the EU.
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Zollitsch , W. , Winckler , C. , Waiblinger , S. , & Haslberger , A . (eds) ( 2007 ). Sustainable food production and ethics . Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers. P e t e r H o r t o n i s E m e r i t u s Professor of Biochemistry in the D e p a r t m e n t o f M o l e c u l a r Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield. G r a d u a t i n g w i t h a B A i n Biology in 1970, he holds a D.Phil . and D. Sc . all from the University of York. After postd oc t or a l t r a i n i n g a t P ur d u e University, he was appointed as Assistant Professor at the State U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k a t Buffalo in 1975. He then took up t h e p o s t o f L e c t u r e r i n Biochemistry at the University of Sheffield in 1978, was promoted to Reader in 1984 and to Professor in 1990. He was director of the Robert Hill Institute for Photosynthesis Research from 1989 until 2003 . He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2010 in recognition of his research into the regulation of the light reactions of photosynthesis, particularly the molecular transformations that enable plants to efficiently use limiting light but dissipate excess light to protect themselves from damage during environmental stress, publishing over 200 peer reviewed papers in this field. He led two international agricultural projects, on abiotic stress in common bean in South America and on rice photosynthesis, in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines .
He was appointed Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer, at UCL before moving to Sheffield in 1993 where he has served as Head of Department (2000-3) and as Director of Research for the F acul ty o f S oci al Sc ie n ces (2004-7). He was elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2001 and received the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 2007. He directed the Changing Families, Changing Food research programme, funded by the Leverhulme Trust (2005-8), and was awarded an Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council (2008-12) for a study of consumer anxieties about food. He is currently directing a project on Food, Convenience and Sustainability (2014-17) as part of an ERA-Net programme on sustainable food and an ESRC funded study of freshness in the UK and Portuguese agro-food sectors ( 2016 - 2018 ). Recent publications include Food Words ( 2013 ) and Anxious Appetites ( 2015 ), both published by Bloomsbury. Besides his academic research, he also advises the Food Standards Agency as Chair of their Social Science Research Committee .