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RCUK calls for closer look at environment and food security link

Research is “urgently needed” to understand the impact of environmental change on food security, Research Councils UK has said.

The comments were made in RCUK’s submission to the House of Commons International Development Committee inquiry into global food security, published on 10 January alongside evidence from the Wellcome Trust, the Department for International Development and industry and charitable groups.

RCUK said that DFID should continue to support the UK research base, particularly with a focus on collaborative and translational work.

“Research underpinning the development of new technologies, improvements in dietary health, mechanisms to put innovations into practice and increased understanding of socio-economic factors will have an important role to play in the achievement of food security,” it said. And it listed 13 important research areas, including GM, pest and weed control, and the impact of air pollutants on crops.

RCUK also said that research into the role of biodiversity in sustainable agriculture is needed.

In its submission to the inquiry, DFID said its approach to food security includes a focus on agricultural research and innovation. It said that it is investing in infrastructure and agricultural research in more than 20 countries.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development said: “Much more investment is needed into research on loss prevention measures and disseminating best practice for prevention.”

The Wellcome Trust said food security would depend on interventions with “multiple interrelated goals”. Its submission, by director Mark Walport, stated: “Therefore, while randomised controlled trials remain the gold standard for evaluating interventions, it is important to recognise that other methodologies may sometimes be more appropriate or useful in certain settings.”

Walport said that there is “strong scope” for the private sector to play a role in increasing access to nutritious food, and that the trust has worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition to develop an Access to Nutrition Index. The initiative, a benchmarking report in which companies will be rated on their “nutrition practices”, will be launched in early 2013.

The committee plans to begin evidence sessions in early February, with a final report due in May.