Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

  • 4 January 2021

Cracks in UK food system revealed in new mapping report

Mapping the UK Food System

Food systems researchers at the University of Oxford have mapped the UK's food system to reveal the huge value of the agri-food sector to the UK economy as well as the multiple challenges it faces.

Mapping the UK Food System was commissioned by UKRI's new £47.5M research programme 'Transforming the UK Food System for Healthy People and a Healthy Environment.' The research, undertaken by the Food Systems Transformation Group in the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, identifies the key actors in the food system, highlighting their activities and motivations. It outlines the health, social and economic, and environmental outcomes of the food system. An interactive tool accompanying the report allows users to access some of the key data regarding employment, number of enterprises and economic value.

While the findings make clear the economic value of the UK food industry, they also reveal a number of negative consequences of the current system. These include a heavy reliance on imports, skills shortages, poor working conditions, unsustainable production methods and diet-related disease.

Figures related to household food waste reveal the staggering amounts of food disposed of daily in UK homes, including 20 million whole slices of bread, 2.2 million slices of ham and 2.7 million whole carrots are thrown away.

Dr John Ingram, Leader of the Food Systems Transformation Group, University of Oxford, led the research on behalf of the UKRI programme. He said: "In its essence, this fascinating report offers two key findings. First, it reveals the often-surprisingly large numbers related to the food sector, from the £121 billon the sector contributes annually to the economy to the 20 million slices of bread thrown away every single day. Second, it highlights negative outcomes of the current food system; these include food insecurity, malnutrition and environmental damage."

He added that the research has shown there is uncertainty in defining the boundaries of the food system itself, even by those who operate in the sector. "We were also challenged by inconsistent definitions, disparate geographies and aggregated datasets, which all show the need for further work on harmonising our national data in this vital area."

Download the report

View the interactive tool

Insights from the report include:
  • Food is the biggest employer in the UK however 30% of food manufacturing employees are from the EU.
  • 53% of food consumed in the UK in 2018 was produced domestically, followed by 23% sourced from the EU.
  • The UK trade deficit in food and drink is £24.3 billion.
  • Agriculture contributes less than 1% to the national economy; 14% of farms failed to make positive Farm Business Income (FBI) in 2017/18 while less than a third had an FBI of over £50,000.

This report should be referenced as: Hasnain, S., Ingram, J. and Zurek, M. 2020. Mapping the UK Food System - a report for the UKRI Transforming UK Food Systems Programme. Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford.



More news


Keep up to date with our news via our monthly newsletter.