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Science, Policy & Pandemics: The State of Food Security During the Covid-19 Crisis

22 May 2020

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Reported by Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Officer

As part of our series on Science, Policy and Pandemics, we explored food insecurity, the public policies to support food provision to those who are shielding, and supply chain resilience in the context of the covid-19 pandemic.

Listen to the discussion here:

Produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network, CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on science, policy and pandemics aims to answer questions about our understanding of the current pandemic, including the epidemiology, on what basis governments are making current decisions, how much confidence we can have in the knowledge models are producing, and how to manage the uncertainties involved in the present crisis. This episode was also produced with the support of Cambridge Global Food Security, an interdisciplinary research centre which works to address the challenge of ensuring that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.

In this episode, Dr Rob Doubleday spoke with Dr Jean Adams, NIHR Research Fellow at the Centre for Diet and Activity Research, and Dr Jag Srai, Head of the Centre for International Manufacturing, Institute for Manufacturing.

Throughout the episode, Dr Adams noted that one of the challenges facing the UK in the management of food insecurity is that we do not have a great deal of longitudinal data on prevalence of household or adult food insecurity. While the circumstances accompanying the covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated food insecurity, she suggested that the underlying issue of food poverty has been a problem that we have failed to properly measure for a long time. This food insecurity has longer term consequences for health, with Dr Adams highlighting that individuals who experience financial related food insecurity are much more likely to become obese.

Meanwhile, Dr Srai called attention to the fact that the covid-19 crisis has resulted in multiple fractures in food supply chains. There has been breakdowns in last mile delivery, supermarkets, and harvest activity. Managing the situation in the UK has been helped by the fact that half a dozen large retailers represent 80% of the country's grocery shopping, facilitating cooperation between this small group of actors in terms of shared infrastructure, while there have also been innovation and new actors entering e-commerce last mile delivery channels. However, this situation has also revitalized conversation about essentially industries and sovereign capability in the food sector. This is a vital conversation, Dr Srai suggests, given that 50% of the UK's food is imported, necessitating an improved understanding of international interdependencies in food, technology, and workforce flexibility.

Throughout the episode, this week’s guests also discussed the food packages provided to shielded individuals during lockdown, the meal vouchers provided to families of children who normally receive free school meals, bridging the supply chains between the restaurant sector and household consumers, and steps taken by governments to preserve national food supplies during periods of crisis.


CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's special series on Science, Policy and Pandemics is available accross all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Google Play, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, and Castbox.

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Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash