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At a time of turmoil, initiative brings together researchers, industry and Government stakeholders to help make shared island food systems safe and resilient.

Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, and Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs of Northern Ireland, Edwin Poots, today formally launched the All-Island Food Integrity Initiative (FOOD-I). The new network consolidates food systems expertise on the island of Ireland, bringing together key academic, industry and government stakeholders to realise a transformation in the sustainability, security and integrity of the food system.

The ‘All-Island Agri-Food Research Ecosystem Mapping Report' was also launched at the event. The report is the first of its kind ever to be completed for the island of Ireland and maps the agri-food research ecosystem across the entire island for publicly funded research awarded between 2015 and 2020.

The world’s food systems are facing unprecedented challenges, with climate factors, increasing population size and geopolitical conflict threatening food security for all. This is compounded by the need to reach net zero greenhouse gas and carbon emissions by 2050.

Speaking at the launch, Minister McConalogue said: “I welcome the FOOD-I initiative, which provides the unique opportunity to bring stakeholders from all over the island of Ireland together to support innovation and research capability and capacity, in order to implement change in the sustainability, security and integrity of our food systems.

He said: “Both FOOD-I and (Irish Government strategy) Food Vision 2030 recognise the benefits and need for a collaborative food systems approach, encompassing economic, environmental and social sustainability. The FOOD-I initiative aims to consolidate food systems expertise and this, along with the initiative’s key aims and objectives, will greatly benefit the island of Ireland, as well as helping to inform the transformation of global food systems.”

Minister Poots added that: “At today's event we have heard from eminent speakers who have been outlining the challenges and opportunities ahead as we strive to transform how food is produced and consumed and to enhance our global competitiveness and the reputation of our agri-food sectors. I fully recognise that science and innovation are key enablers of long-term economic productivity and growth and are also vital in underpinning environmental sustainability. I am confident that the science delivered by FOOD-I will rise to meet these challenges and create new opportunities for the agri-food sector – placing sustainability at the heart of a living, working landscape valued by everyone."

FOOD-I is coordinated under a partnership between UCD, Queen’s University Belfast, UCC, Teagasc, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), NUI Galway and Ulster University. The network will provide evidence-based solutions for industry and government, develop disruptive new technologies and drive behaviour change among all actors along the food chain in the shared island food system.

Co-Chair of FOOD-I, Professor of Plant Health in UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science and member of the G20 Global Wheat Initiative Scientific Board, Professor Fiona Doohan said: “We face unprecedented challenges to ensure the integrity and security of our food supply, on this island and globally. By working together, harnessing the world-class research skills and resources across the whole island, we can lead the world in providing innovative solutions to ensure the sustainability of agri-food systems.”

Co-Chair of FOOD-I, Professor Aedin Cassidy of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s said: “One of the biggest challenges facing humanity this century is to provide the growing world population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The climate crisis, Brexit, geopolitics - such as what's happening in Ukraine - and the Covid-19 pandemic have all put pressure on an already creaking system. Transformation is urgently required and can only be achieved by an inter-disciplinary approach. Our broad and distinctive skill sets in food-systems research across Ireland place us in a unique position to address these challenges and develop evidence-based solutions that will showcase our world-leading research and have consequences for food systems internationally.”

The ‘All-Island Agri-Food Research Ecosystem Mapping Report' highlighted that agri-food is the largest indigenous industry on the island of Ireland but, year-on-year, public investment in agri-food research has declined annually since 2015, falling by 44 per cent in 2019 across the island.

The report recommended continuous public investment in agri-food research in all-island partnerships across the ‘whole food system,’ to ensure the sustainability of the region.

Delivering the keynote speech at the launch, Ireland’s (UN Summit) Special Envoy for Food Systems and Chair of the EU Commission’s High Level Expert Group (to assess the need for an International Platform for Food Systems Science), Mr Tom Arnold said: “There is huge scope for enhanced all-island agri-food cooperation. Working more closely on an all-island basis provides significant opportunities to jointly contribute expertise to co-develop solutions to shared global challenges in food security impacting on the jobs of the future on the island. The FOOD-I initiative will help to position the island as an international leader in sustainable food systems and in food and nutrition security.”

Professor Mary Ward Ulster University said  "At Ulster we are proud to be involved in this all-island initiative, to realise  a step-change in the sustainability of our food system that will ensure the availability of nutrient-rich foods , to positively impact health.

Learn about how Ulster University is supporting food safety and resilience through the work of  Professor Mary  Ward and our Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) in Coleraine.