Knowledge for better food systems

Fodder: The FCRN food sustainability newsletter

The FCRN’s weekly newsletter on food sustainability, Fodder, rounds up the latest journal papers, reports, books, jobs, events and more. Sign up to receive it here.

Network updates

In Fodder this week

75% to 98% of insect biomass has been lost in the past few decades and over 40% of insect species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades, according to a new paper, which points to intensive agriculture and pesticides as some of the leading causes. Our summary of this paper includes some notes of clarification on the widely-reported statistic that insect biomass is declining by 2.5% each year.

In other news:

  • Human-induced environmental change could lead to the collapse of social and economic systems, warns the UK think-tank IPPR
  • 63% of EU cropland is used to produce animal feed, according to a study by Greenpeace
  • Switching to an organic diet for a few days can reduce traces of pesticides in urine, and
  • Machine learning can help to monitor bee health by automatically tracking Varroa mite infestations.

Research library

Image: Illuvis, Moth Lepidoptera, Pixabay, Pixabay License

Over 40% of insect species are at risk of extinction over the next few decades and 75% to 98% of insect biomass has already been lost, according to this review of the current state of knowledge about insect declines, with habitat loss through conversion to intensive agriculture being the main driver. Agro-chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are also driving insect declines.

Image: Oregon State University, A mature grass plant is composed of leaves, a root system, stems and a seed head, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

This commentary in Nature Sustainability discusses governance and initiatives for conserving and increasing soil organic carbon. Through a multi-stakeholder discussion group, the authors developed a global agenda for action on soil organic carbon.

Image: Jeff Vanuga, Pesticide application on leaf lettuce in Yuma, Az., Public Domain Files, Public Domain

Switching to an organic diet for six days significantly reduced the levels of several pesticides and pesticide metabolites found in the urine of the 16 participants of this study.

Image: Narek75, Recirculating Aquaculture System, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Aquaculture generally supplements wild fisheries rather than replacing them, according to this paper, which used models based on historical data.

Human-induced environmental change could lead to the collapse of social and economic systems, according to this report from the UK think-tank IPPR, which argues that policymakers must shift their understanding of the scale and impacts of environmental breakdown and the need for transformative change.

71% of European Union farmland is used to feed livestock and 18% to 20% of the EU’s total budget goes to livestock farms, according to this report by NGO Greenpeace.

This report from IPES Food argues for a new approach to governing food systems in Europe, where sustainability goals are integrated across policies for different sectors, including agriculture, trade, food safety, environment and research.

This report from The Climate Coalition (a UK-based association of organisations with an interest in climate change) outlines how production of fruit and vegetables in the UK is threatened by extreme weather events made more likely by climate change.

This book, by William D. Schanbacher, addresses ethical issues around access to food, outlines how the global food system works, and offers suggestions on how people can engage their communities and learn more about the foods they eat.

This book discusses options for sustainable weed control for a variety of crops. Topics covered include the impacts of herbicides on people, soils and ecosystems, integrated weed management, and herbicide resistance.

Image: Max Pixel, Bee bees honey, CC0 Public Domain

Students at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have created a machine learning algorithm to automatically count Varroa mites in beehives. The algorithm could help beekeepers monitor bee health more quickly and accurately.

Image: Two Helmets Cooking, Fava beans, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

This article on the environmental impacts of different types of animal feed (including fishmeal, soy, fava beans, algae and various forage crops) features commentary from FCRN member Sam Smith, who has contributed to the Feed Compass work by Forum for the Future.


The Rur­alia In­sti­tute at the University of Helsinki is seeking two PhD students to join the project "Cultured meat in post-animal bioeconomy – changing relationships between humans and farmed animals” led by Senior Researcher Toni Ryynänen and Associate Professor Hanna Tuomisto.

The first position will use social science to explore what kind of meanings individuals, groups and food system organisations associate with farmed animals in this changing landscape.

The second position will use natural science to model the environmental impacts of transforming food systems, and especially livestock production, with novel technologies such as cellular agriculture.

For more details, see here. The deadline is 1 March 2019 for both positions.

The Future Sustainable Food Systems research group at the University of Helsinki, led by FCRN member Hanna Tuomisto, is seeking a postdoctoral researcher or doctoral student for the project “Assessing the potential of novel food production technologies to improve the environmental sustainability of food systems”.

The successful candidate will contribute to the development of novel frameworks, approaches and methods for consequential sustainability assessment of food systems and use these methods for assessing the impacts of introducing novel food production technologies in different geographic areas.

For more details, see here. The deadline is 3 March 2019.

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Food is running a four-month startup accelerator programme in Germany, Israel, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. It is aimed at early-stage agri-food startups that have the potential to make a big impact on any part of the agriculture or food supply chain.

For more details, see here. The deadline is 13 March 2019.

Startup Forward Fooding, a “collaborative platform for the food and beverage industry”, has a vacancy for a business development manager based in London, UK.

Candidates should have three to five years of relevant experience, be passionate about improving the food system, and have experience of using lead generation tools.

For more details, see here. No deadline is specified.

Startup Forward Fooding has a vacancy for a paid internship over summer 2019, based in London, UK. The intern will support the development of a marketing strategy, maintain Forward Fooding's editorial calendar and manage and optimise social media outreach and search engine rankings.

Candidates should have recent and direct experience in digital marketing, have knowledge of food-related blogs, and have great attention to detail.

For more details, see here. No deadline is specified.


This one-day conference at the British Library will explore the potential and challenges of the shift towards farming more plants, and look at the implications for the environment, public health and animals, including the impacts on farmers, land managers and rural communities.

Speakers include Marcela Villarreal, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations; Natalie Bennett, former Green Party leader; Dr Helen Harwatt, Harvard University (who will be launching research findings on repurposing land in the UK); former animal farmers Jay Wilde and Colm O’Dowd; Dr Marco Springmann, and many more.

For more details, see here. Use the discount code GROW10 to get 10% off. Early bird tickets are available until 15 February 2019. The conference is on 11 April 2019.

The newly-launched organisation Cellular Agriculture UK will hold a casual networking event on 12 March 2019 for those interested in cellular agriculture.

For more details, see here. See also Cellular Agriculture UK’s launch celebration on 26 February 2019.

This event, part of Forward Foodings’ The Future of Food Meetup Series, will feature a talk by food redistribution charity FareShare and a networking session.

For more details, see here. The event is on 21 March 2019 in London.

The New Food Conference 2019, organised by NGO ProVeg, will focus on consumer attitudes towards plant-based foods and cultured animal products. It also aims to shape the European food industry, raise public awareness of these food types, and promote networking among industry stakeholders.

For more details, see here. The conference will be held on 21 and 22 March 2019.

The 6th International Conference on Food Security and Nutrition will be held on 8 to 10 April 2019 in Barcelona.

The conference will cover a number of topics. The following may be of particular interest to FCRN readers:

  • Equitable food systems with dietary diversity   
  • Biodiversity for diet diversity
  • Local food for improving nutrition
  • Environment and food and nutrition security for all
  • Determinants of and threats to health
  • Successful strategies and interventions

For more details, see here. Tickets are cheaper if booked before 10 March 2019.