Institute for Sustainability

Food

Food

Food is an indispensable requirement for life, economy and sustainable development. New ways are needed to prevent food waste, develop sustainable food manufacturing, eliminate exposure to food contaminants and increase food resource efficiency.

Newcastle University researchers are leading the development and integration of technologies and strategies to increase efficiency of resource use in the provision of safe, nutritious food. They are also assessing the environmental impacts of food production from land and sea. Other areas of research expertise in food include:

  • enhancing nutrient use efficiency in crops
  • sustainable livestock production
  • integrating conservation measures in urban areas
  • assessing benefits of organic vs conventional agriculture

How are we meeting the environmental and societal challenges of today?

Researchers are working with communities to investigate the impacts of heavy metals and other pollutants on urban allotments and gardens as well as soil. They are also working with communities in the developing world to understand how they can help increase the efficiency of traditional agriculture. At Newcastle University Nafferton Farm researchers from the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development are focusing on low-input and organic approaches to crop and livestock production, working closely with the agricultural industry. Researchers are also investigating how a nutritious, plant-based diet is also more sustainable, especially within the context of development.

Read about a healthy diet for sustainable development.

In addition to monitoring pollution and establishing best practice for sustainable agriculture, there is substantial work at Newcastle University on pesticides. Scientists in the School of Biology and Institute of Neuroscience are leading research on the effects of pesticides on bees, developing targeted approaches for pesticide management and their impacts on human health.   

Monitoring pollutants in urban agriculture

Air pollutants especially from industry and auto traffic not only present health risks to people that breathe them in, but also those who work with the soil and grow vegetables in urban gardens and allotments. This is of special concern to the health of gardeners in cities who may be exposing themselves to contaminants that could endanger their health. While concentrations of heavy metals in soils are unlikely to be taken up by vegetables in any significant amount according to previous research, they may be taken up by gardeners in other ways.

As urban food production increases in scale in response to global environmental problems such as climate change, air pollution will continue to be a major concern of communities who work in urban gardens. Research projects funded by the Institute for Sustainability are monitoring pollution that may affect urban crops, assessing their quality, including a closed system of vertical farming in Newcastle, UK.    

Ecological farming

Low-input agriculture, such as organic farming, has potentially a large role to play in increasing the quality of soil, reducing dependence on agrochemicals and fertilisers, and reducing energy usage and water contamination. But what are the best ways ecological farming approaches can be employed and how can they improve agriculture more generally? Research at Nafferton Farm is addressing this question among others in developing sustainable ways to improve multiple aspects of agriculture including:

  • livestock and crop production
  • soils and environment
  • breeding and genetics
  • agro-ecology

One half of Nafferton Farm is used for conventional farming while the other half is organic, including crops and livestock. The aim is to compare methods from both to improve organic and conventional farming systems, quantifying yield and food quality differences. 

Pest management

Pest management is essential to good farming practice for increasing crop yield and quality. Pesticides are one of the main ways farmers manage pests, but they can have unwanted side effects on the ecosystem. Researchers at Newcastle University have led ground breaking work on the effects of pesticides on bees, especially neonicotinoid pesticides. They are developing new targeted forms of agricultural pest management using biopesticides that have potential to replace pesticides on the market that harm bees.

Research on effects of pesticides has large implications for national and international policy. Researchers are providing evidence that can help best inform policy on pesticides, and give guidance for farmers in choosing the pest management strategy that works best for them.     

Justice and governance

While millions of people living in the world today are malnourished half of all food is wasted worldwide. Researchers are finding ways to prevent food waste, particularly fruits and vegetables, by reducing the presence of microbes on food. Research at Newcastle University is also looking at how people understand food labelling to help them choose foods that are more sustainable or healthy, giving both producers and consumers a fair deal. Sustainable food production also supports local communities and has less of an ecological footprint, improving people's lives and the environments they inhabit.

Soil research

Read about soil research at Newcastle University. 

Work with us

Sustainability researchers in food work with a range of partners in industry, NGOs, civil society organisations, government and academia. They are always interested in forming new collaborations with interested stakeholders. For further information contact the Institute for Sustainability