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Sustainable production of healthy, affordable food in the UK: The pros and cons of plasticulture

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>6/07/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Food and Energy Security
Number of pages21
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date6/07/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

An evolving green agenda as the UK seeks to achieve ‘net zero’ in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, coupled with our new trading relationship with the European Union, is resulting in new government policies, which will be disruptive to Britain's traditional food and farming practices. These policies encourage sustainable farming and land-sparing to restore natural habitats and will provide an opportunity to address issues such as high emissions of GHGs and dwindling biodiversity resulting from many intensive agricultural practices. To address these and other food challenges such as global conflicts and health issues, Britain will need a revolution in its food system. The aim of this paper is to make the case for such a food revolution where additional healthy food for the UK population is produced in-country in specialised production units for fruits and vegetables developed on sites previously considered unsuitable for crop production. High crop productivity can be achieved in low-cost controlled environments, making extensive use of novel crop science and modern controlled-environment technology. Such systems must be operated with very limited environmental impact. In recent years, growth in the application of plasticulture in UK horticulture has driven some increases in crop yield, quality and value. However, the environmental cost of plastic production and plastic pollution is regarded as a generational challenge that faces the earth system complex. The distribution of plastic waste is ubiquitous, with a significant pollution load arising from a range of agricultural practices. The primary receptor of agriplastic pollution is agricultural soil. Impacts of microplastics on crop productivity and quality and also on human health are only now being investigated. This paper explores the possibility that we can mitigate the adverse environmental effects of agriplastics and thereby exploit the potential of plasticulture to enhance the productivity and positive health impact of UK horticulture.