From the 10th – 15th June, we held our first policy focus week, designed to celebrate and support successful policy engagement from across the programme. We launched the week with our Policy Engagement in Practice event and each day of the week focused on a different topic. We were delighted with the weeks activities, thanks if you got involved!

See below for the day-by-day releases on each topic.

If you have any questions you can get in touch with us here.

Food systems sits at the heart of N8 AgriFood’s approach to tackling the major challenges surrounding sustainability and resilience in global food chains. Given the programme’s unique collaborative and multidisciplinary nature it is well placed to link research from all avenues of science to give a joined up solution to these challenges.

Policy makers in Government, Industry and NGOs are turning to N8 AgriFood and its academics for expertise in how to make effective change that will ensure sustainability right across the food system.


In 2018 the Co-op published it’s Future of Food Initiative. The internal policy initiative set out to ensure food sold within the retailer was made from ingredients created with care, that the people who produce them are treated with respect, and the customer is able to appreciate sustainable food. A major contributor to that work was N8 AgriFood’s Academic Lead at the University of York, Professor Bob Doherty, who worked with the Co-op through N8 AgriFood’s sister project IKnowFood to produce the report, and give a presentation at its launch. Read the Future of Food report HERE



N8 AgriFood is working to promote a food systems approach to policy to ensure we deliver on the Government’s objectives of leaving the environment in a better place, with a sustainable model of quality food production but also that there is :

  • Food and diet-related health outcomes included in future plans
  • Food security for those lower socio-demographic groups and to reduce the reliance on food banks
  • A strategic balance between promoting the production of healthy and sustainable food and reliance on imports.
  • Assurances that smallholder farmers will be treated fairly in future trade policy


NEWS: N8 AgriFood calls for Food Systems consideration within the Agriculture Bill 


Professor Doherty has also worked with Oxfam’s Policy & Practice team, supporting it with the creation of a new procurement tool to help buying teams source products from fairer businesses. Launched in January 2019 the tool has the potential for reducing inequality in global supply chains. FInd out more about it HERE.



Other global food systems policy initiatives supported by N8 AgriFood include research into governance within the soy industry. For the last 12 months an interdisciplinary team of N8 AgriFood colleagues at the University of York have been investigating the governance and sustainability of soy – the world’s most globally traded commodity. In March 2019, IKnowFood hosted an interdisciplinary workshop, sponsored by IKnowFood and N8 Agrifood, which brought together some of the world’s leading scholars, alongside soy food systems stakeholders, to share state-of-the-art (predominantly social) scientific research, civil society and industry perspectives. One of the focal points of the workshop was to investigate what evidence, if any, is there of key focal firms displaying policy entrepreneurship by promoting the uptake of strengthened sustainability mechanisms, and how this could be encourage. Read more HERE



N8 AgriFood is well placed to contribute research and expertise to future UK food systems policy after Professor Doherty, who is N8 AgriFood’s co-chair and academic lead for the University of York, was one of six new academic fellows to be appointed by The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) last month, to lead its Systems Research Programme. This Systems Research Programme, which as well as Food also focusses on Rural Land Use, Air Quality, Marine, and Resources and Waste, will look at some of the UK’s most pressing environmental issues to inform and shape key future policy decisions in Food and farming. Read more HERE.





Precision agriculture has widely been regarded as a solution to many of the challenges facing the farming sector. However, advances in agri-technologies to automate and robotise aspects of the farming process have so far been limited to high value, but low volume sectors such as horticulture or soft fruit production.

Today N8 AgriFood is calling for a new generation of hybrid biologist-engineers to be created in order for precision agriculture to truly hit mainstream farming, with a requirement for Government and industry to join forces to fund specialised training programmes. The calls have been backed by the The Institution of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE).

NEWS: N8 AgriFood calls for a “fundamental rethink” in agri-tech engineering

The calls have been made based on a paper co-authored by N8 AgriFood’s chair in Agri Sensors & Electronics Professor Bruce Grieve, director at the University of Manchester’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Professor Grieve has previously published a White Paper on the Future of Robotic Agriculture. Read it HERE.

Elsewhere in the farming technology space, N8 AgriFood has published a White Paper entitled: What next for the UK’s ‘Controlled Environment Agriculture’ Sector. Read it HERE.


Last month academics from N8 AgriFood universities were invited to speak in London at a closed briefing into the Future of Agricultural Technologies, hosted by the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST). Professor Sarah Bridle, from The University of Manchester, pictured centre, and Dr Niamh Forde, University of Leeds, pictured right, were two of eight speakers invited to give share their expertise at the event, while Dr Sonal Choudhary, from University of Sheffield, pictured left, attended as an observer. Read a summary of the event HERE.



Today N8 AgriFood issued an Open Letter to policy heads at Social Media firms asking them to stop collecting data from under 18s and selling it to junk food advertisers.

Research within the N8 AgriFood programme has found direct links between exposure to marketing of processed foods and beverages that are high in fats, sugars and/or salt (so called ‘HFSS’ items), and an increase in consumption among children.

In an open letter to policy chiefs at Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, Snapchat and Microsoft, N8 AgriFood highlights the consequences of selling data obtained from children in relation to childhood obesity.

The letter has been signed by 15 senior academics from across all eight universities within N8 AgriFood, and has been back by the EASO (the European Association for the Study of Obesity).


Alongside taking the problem straight to those behind social media platforms, N8 AgriFood is urging Government to put policies in place to control levels of HFSS advertising viewed by children both online and via other media. The programme argues the Government’s ambitions to halve childhood obesity by 2030 will not be met unless preventative measures are put in place to stop the staggering amount of marketing young people are exposed to and the creative content of that marketing that drives the persuasive effect.

As well as seeking policy that prevents the collection of data from under 18’s online, N8 AgriFood is calling on Government to introduce a national roll out of the HFSS advertising ban on the Transport for London estate, and requests for a 9pm television watershed on HFSS adverts.

Policy engagement in this area is being led by Dr Emma Boyland, Senior Lecturer in Appetite and Obesity at the University of Liverpool. Her work is referenced in Government’s “Childhood Obesity: a plan for action, chapter 2″ report” and the World Health Organizations “Monitoring and Restricting Digital Marketing” report which supports its CLICK framework for guiding policy. Dr Boyland also carried out research and produced a report for Cancer Research UK highlighting the associations between diet and advertising of junk food on TV and the internet. See all three reports referencing Dr Boyland’s work below.


Today N8 AgriFood has showcased a number of schemes the programme as co-created and supported that focus on utilising private funds to pay for public goods.

Through N8 AgriFood’s chair at Newcastle University, Professor Mark Reed, the programme has advised on policy adoption surrounding Payment for Ecosystem Services on a regional, national and international scale.

NEWS: N8 AgriFood helps corporate sector plug Government funding gaps in landscape restoration

Today a briefing by N8 AgriFood was presented to the chief executives of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) around the country. Authored by Professor Reed, and co-produced with Newcastle University’s Rural Enterprise UK initiative, the brief advised LEPs on how to embed natural capital into Local Industrial Strategies. Download the Briefing HERE.

Focussing specifically on the restoration of peatlands, N8 AgriFood expertise has been sought  for policy interventions on an internation scale following success in the UK. A team made up of academics from Newcastle University and the University of Leeds worked on the Peatlands Tipping Point project, which provided evidence to support the creation of the UK’s first Peatland Code scheme, and has led to the promotion of similar initiatives by United Nations conventions and agencies. The research has been instrumental in shaping and monitoring implementation of an International Union for the Conservation of Nature Motion, leading to creation of new peatland policies in at least ten countries, and has led to the integration of private-public partnerships in the United Nations’ Global Peatland Initiative.

The Landscape Enterprise Network (LENs) approach was developed by 3Keel and Business in the Community with Nestle, who collectively established a programme which harnesses commercial interest in how landscapes function to drive investment and innovation around strategic assets like soils, aquifers, access infrastructure, habitats and tree cover. N8 AgriFood leads a collaboration under the LENs initiative called Resilient Dairy Landscapes involving Newcastle University, the University of Leeds and the University of Liverpool. N8 AgriFood academics have published two Policy Briefs under the Resilient Dairy Landscapes Project. Read them HERE and HERE.


Day one of Policy Focus Week highlighted policy engagement and expertise offered on the subject of Brexit.

During the day N8 AgriFood published two policy documents; a Policy Insight which gives an overview of the key challenges facing agrifood supply chains as Britain leaves the EU, and a Policy Brief, co-produced with the IKnowFood programme, which focussed on the resilience of fresh fruit and vegetables supply chains in the face of Brexit.

N8 AgriFood also shared a case study into one of its Local Pump Priming projects between the University of York and Lancaster University. The project, entitled Local Food Supply Chain Resiliance: The Brexit Effect, resulted in the team presenting their findings to MPs and Lords at the House of Commons. Read more here.

N8 AgriFood’s academics have played numerous advisory roles to policy makers in the lead up to Britain’s departure from the EU:

Professor Fiona Smith, N8 AgriFood’s chair at the University of Leeds, was appointed Specialist Advisor for the House of Lords for its Report on BREXIT and Agriculture. She has given evidence on the impact of BREXIT on agricultural trade to the UK’s House of Commons, International Trade Committee and the Welsh National Assembly, External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee. She was an invited expert for the European Commission, [DG DSANCO], Working Group on EU Food Safety in Nutrition in 2050, the joint DEFRA/UK Treasury, Balance of Competence Review: Agriculture evaluating the relationship between the EU and the UK and the Yorkshire Agricultural Society advising on the Implications of BREXIT for Agriculture in the UK.


Professor Bob Doherty, N8 AgriFood’s Academic Lead at the University of York, was invited by Government to sit on a roundtable group in Westminster and help draft amendments to the Agriculture Bill before it’s second reading in Parliament. He is one of six new academic fellows to be appointed by The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) to lead its Systems Research Programme, which will look at some of the UK’s most pressing environmental issues to inform and shape key future policy decisions in Food and farming post Brexit.



Policy Focus Week got underway on Monday with a free-to-attend event at Cloth Hall Court, in Leeds. Entitled ‘Policy Engagement in Practice’ the event brought together N8 AgriFood academics and government representatives to share their knowledge and experiences about how to influence policy.

The day was aimed at those working under the broad theme of agri-food who have an interest in engaging with policy, such as academic staff, research team staff, PhD students and associated industry partners of any of the N8 Universities.

Speakers included Dr Pete Border, scientific advisor at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST); Julieta Cuneo, Manager (Sustainability) at Policy Connect; Dr Yaadwinder S. Sidhu, Office of Chief Scientific Adviser at DEFRA, as well as presentations from N8 AgriFood academics Professor Bob Doherty, Professor Fiona Smith, Professor Mark Reed, Dr Jess Davies and Dr Rachel Marshall.

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