National Food Strategy #14: Risk categorisation

Given how complex the food supply network is and the sheer scale of what it takes to feed a population, even one as comparatively small as the 66+ million of us in the UK, how do categorise the threats and associated risks to it?

Possibilities include:

  • Four categories taken from the definition of food security under the 1996 Rome Declaration:
    i.e. (1) Access to (2) sufficient supplies of (3) safe, (4) nutritious food.
  • The seven ‘areas of interest’ set out by the MoD
    (in this Call for Papers on food and food security made in February 2017, and, although withdrawn on 6th March 2017, well worth reading).
    The seven are: (1) global food supply & demand, (2) processing, (3) consumption and use, (4) trade & access, (5) the natural environmental & climate change, (6) game changers & technology and (7) defence & security
    note: It’s also worth keeping an eye on the US National Intelligence Council Global Trends.
  • The supply chain: from farm to consumer
    e.g: (1) farming, fishing & acquaculture, (2) raw product storage, (3) transportation (4) processing & manufacturing, (5) storage of the finished product, (6) distribution to consumers
  • Risks affecting the whole supply chain
    e.g: (1) contamination (adulteration or infestation malicious or otherwise, pollution & pollutants,  (2) access to labour, (3) financial issues (e.g. commodity prices, currency fluctuations, access to capital, RTI, operational profits & costs, social costs of diet-related effects), (4) regulatory change, (5) technology changes and/or virus contamination, cyber attack* and/or significant energy outtage and (6) consumer behaviour
  • Political, economic, science, technology and the environment (PeSTe)
    i.e. the headings under which scenario planning factors often are identified
  • CBRNe materials
    Emergency planners categorise highly dangerous materials as: chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, other explosive, and plan responses to any of them affecting a population either by war, terrorism or accident.
  • Probabilities and impact
    Another way of categorising risk, often used by emergency planners, is to assess probabilities and level of impact. It’s a robust way of identifying ‘blue-lights’ scenarios, but inadequate to ‘see’ slow-to-develop or far-flung events and their causes until too late, such as climate change, non-resilient IT permeation through the the food sector (as others) and the costs of diet-related disease.
    That inadequacy is why we developed The Game, a scenarios thinking tool to help people understand (and feel) existing and emerging risks to our food supply system.


*note (a): Of particular concern to business people in the food sector is cyber attack, expressed firmly and fluently to us by one of our workshop participants, the Operations Director of a large fresh produce wholesaler: It affects everything from online ordering and  deliveries ; customs clearance; traceability, lab testing and certification before release of food items for sale and general tracking and day to day manufacturing – Do you know how many robots operate in an OCADO or amazon warehouse .. or drug companies RDC’s or fuel distribution – if they are hacked . . .  The damage could be tremendous.

note (b): Lloyds of London Emerging Risk Report 2019 Evolving Risk in Global Food Supply is well-worth reading and not only because Professor Molly Jahn, who is on our Panel of Experts, was their peer reviewer and advisor.

note (c): Assessing risk is an intellectually taxing task requiring the input of experts from a variety of disciplines. Hence our recommendation for the Government to set up an independent UK Food Security Institute, the third recommendation we made in our horizon scanning report Back from the future, and mentioned in the sixth blogpost in this series, UK resilience to global risks to food supplies — and of which more in our next blogpost.


Previous blogposts in this National Food Strategy series are:

#13: A local level strategy?

#12: Local risk and resilience

#11: City level responses to food insecurity

#10: The space between farm gate and food outlet

#9: Three scenarios and their risks to the supply chain

#8: Supply chain permutations are endless

#7: A simplified fresh produce supply chain map

#6: UK resilience to global risks to food supplies

#5: Global risks to UK food supplies

#4: The irreconcilables

#3:  The global competition for safe, nutritious food

#2: Responsibility, resilience and ethics

#1: The brief

A link to our submission is here.    A list of all the blogposts in this series is here.


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