Rapid evidence assessment on the use of AI in the UK food system

Human hand supporting a gooseberry on a bush that is surrounded by icons depicting the Internet of Things as it relates to agriculture, photo by doidam/10

Photo by doidam10/Adobe Stock

What is the issue?

For the purposes of this study, the food system refers to the stages of food supply, food production, food processing, distribution, consumption and food waste/disposal.

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has gained increasing prominence and utilisation in multiple sectors, including in that of food. AI offers many benefits and opportunities for the food system – increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of tasks across the food system stages, providing economic, social and sustainability benefits, and helping to solve current challenges like the rising demand for food necessitated by the growing world population, climate change, labour shortages and other economic pressures. However, it also raises concerns around potential failures in transparency around the algorithms in use, and around data access and its use infringing privacy or exposing trade secrets.

With increasing use of AI across the agriculture sector, it is important to stay abreast of what gaps the technology is filling, where technology can be further optimised, and what barriers and challenges may be encountered or may emerge as a result of use of technology. This research can help provide a more rounded view of the promises and risks that accompany the use of AI tools in the food sector.

How are we helping?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissioned RAND Europe to undertake research to better understand the use of AI in the food system, specifically in the UK context. This will help the FSA to understand how the food system operates now and in the future; what risks and challenges it may present in terms of food safety; what steps the FSA could take to ensure that it supports and stays abreast of innovation in the food system; and for the FSA to understand where further research is warranted. The study will focus on the following topics:

  • The current focus of research on AI in the food system.
  • The areas and the purposes for which AI is likely to have the greatest applicability in the future (next 10 years) in the food system.
  • Where AI tools are currently being used within the food system.

This project will utilise a rapid evidence assessment, horizon scanning, and scientometric analysis to develop a high level overview of AI research and use cases across the UK food system.