People: Barbara Haesler, Steven Van Winden, Louise Whatford, Mehroosh Tak


This project brings together different disciplinary and One Health specialists from two collaborating universities; the Royal Veterinary College (Drs Barbara Haesler, Steven van Winden, Louise Whatford and Mehroosh Tak) and the University of Hertfordshire (Prof David Barling and Drs Sophie Payne-Gifford, Kate Johnson and Aiming Qi) to contribute creatively to solutions for more sustainable beef and sheep production and marketing systems in Great Britain. 

Our food systems are highly complex, dynamic, multi-faceted structures that include all enterprises, institutions, activities and relationships involved in food production, distribution and consumption. A sustainable food system “is a system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised. This means that: – It is profitable throughout (economic sustainability); – It has broad-based benefits for society (social sustainability); and – It has a positive or neutral impact on the natural environment (environmental sustainability). “ (FAO, 2018).

With a changing environment on the horizon, increasing human populations, economic growth, climate change and the UK leaving the EU, it is now more important than ever to identify areas to promote sustainability in livestock food systems. Therefore, in this project we investigate how beef and sheep production and marketing systems in Great Britain can continue to deliver valuable products to consumers and support livelihoods, while minimising the impact on animal health and welfare and the environment. 

Aim and objectives

Our overarching question is how we can achieve:  More sustainable British beef and sheep production and marketing systems in a changing environment. To this end we are investigating how ruminant production and marketing systems can maximise quality food production and economic viability, while promoting sustainable land use and management including environmental and antimicrobial stewardship.   

To deliver on this aim the objectives of the project:

  1. Carry out a review of the literature on sustainable agricultural and food system practices in order to identify indicators of sustainability, health and efficiency in livestock production and marketing systems, and their policy contexts. 
  2. Design an analysis system to capture the efficiencies, equities and impacts of different livestock production and marketing systems. 
  3. Collect primary and secondary data at farm and food sector level of a beef system and a sheep system
  4. Assess the relationships between pricing mechanisms and sustainable production and marketing practices along the beef and sheep meat value chains. 
  5. Identify public policies and private sector strategies to enable sustainable livestock production and marketing systems that provide reasonably priced products that are profitable and equitable across the food value chain, in the post Brexit agricultural and food policy context.  

The approach

We are using transdisciplinary, systems modelling approaches to characterise beef and sheep production and marketing systems in Great Britain as well as their drivers, policy and governance. We will investigate their impacts in terms of animal health, animal welfare, environment, livelihoods, food security, social needs and farming characteristics simultaneously considering the changing policy and governance landscape thereby gaining information on trends, trade-offs and potential co-benefits. Both quantitative and qualitative approaches will be used making use of the broad expertise in the team. 

A systems thinking approach allows non-linear, dynamic problems to be addressed, acknowledging that elements are linked with each other and the presence of feedback loops. This approach fits food systems allowing an understanding of the elements and drivers within the system.  

Systematic literature reviews, econometrics, policy analysis, system dynamic and meta-modelling, scenario modelling and case studies will all be used taking advantage of the broad skill set of the project team.


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