Professor Tim Lang - Is the UK food secure? Does it matter?

ILAS Grand Challenges lecture series


Preparations for no-deal Brexit exposed how the UK food system is stretched. After bland reassurances that all was well, when the ‘Yellowhammer’ papers were leaked in autumn 2019 and finally released, they suggested considerable fragility in our current supply system. This lecture will explore the many paradoxes about the UK’s food. By many measures, it is unsustainable, contributes to massive health problems (many of which are paid for by the NHS), and is locked into an economic dynamic which squeezes primary producers. Yet it is the biggest employer (4 million jobs) and has brought the average household expenditure on food down from 30% in the 1950s to about 10% today. It produces so much food we waste a quarter. This lecture raises questions we now should ask. Can we unlock the ‘lock-ins’ which analysts now say characterises the supposed successes of UK food? Is there sufficient public pressure to do this? Who and what gains or loses? If we want to change such a finely-tuned and delicate system, how could we do this? Most importantly perhaps, it considers whether we can afford not to.


Tim Lang is Professor of Food Policy at the Centre for Food Policy, City University of London. After a PhD in Psychology at Leeds University in the 1970s, he became a hill farmer in Lancashire for 7 years, which has inspired his work ever since. He researches the role of policy in shaping and responding to the food system, particularly in relation to health, environment, social justice, the political economy and consumer culture.

He has worked for decades on how policy-makers do and do not address the mismatch of food and social systems with planetary and human health, and on what consumers and civil society can do about it. He been a member of many UK Government bodies (eg UK Council of Food Policy Advisors, 2008-10, Sustainable Development Commission 2006-11), and Parliamentary Committees (e.g. advising 4 Select Committee inquiries). He chaired the Scottish Government’s review of food and health strategy in 2004-6. He has advised the European Commission and Parliament, and various UN agencies (WHO, FAO, UNEP). In 2016-19, he was Expert on the European Economic & Social Council’s 2017 inquiry into a comprehensive EU Food Policy and again on the Opinion on Sustainable Diets (March 2019). He set up, chaired and now is Special Advisor to the inter-university Food Research Collaboration of 550+ British academics and civil society researchers working for a better food system (2014-20). He was PI on the EU 7th Framework GLAMUR study (2014-16) on the local/global in food systems and PI on the Hefce-funded IFSTAL project creating innovative links for food-related post-graduate education on food systems with Oxford, Reading, Warwick and London Universities (2014-19). He is President of the UK’s organic gardening and was elected a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health (2001) and Fellow by distinction in 2014. He was made a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Cooks of London in 2016.

He is the author of 200 papers, reports and books. He is co-author of Sustainable Diets (2017), Food Wars (2015, ed 2), Unmanageable Consumer (2015, ed 3), Ecological Public Health (2012), Food Policy (2009), Atlas of Food (2008). He was policy chair and co-author of the EAT-Lancet Commission Food in the Anthropocene report into feasibility of healthy diets from sustainable food systems (The Lancet, Jan 16 2019). His new book, Feeding Britain: our food problems and how to fix them, is to be published by Penguin in March 2020, and focusses on what the UK ought to and could do about its food system, Brexit or no Brexit.

Twitter: @ProfTimLang

Refreshments will be available from 5.30pm onwards.

This lecture is free and all are welcome to attend.

Please note that are no restrictions for visitors on parking in areas marked for staff parking, including the Keele Hall courtyard, from 5.00pm.

Event date
Event Time
Keele Hall - The Salvin Room
Steve Kilner
Contact email
Contact telephone
01782 7 34449

Book event