Scoping Potential Routes to UK Civil Unrest via the Food System: Results of a Structured Expert Elicitation

Paper by Aled Jones, Sarah Bridle, Katherine Denby, Riaz Bhunnoo, Daniel Morton, Lucy Stanbrough, Barnaby Coupe, Vanessa Pilley, Tim Benton, Pete Falloon, Tom K. Matthews, Saher Hasnain, John S. Heslop-Harrison, SJ Beard, Julie Pierce, Jules Pretty, Monika Zurek, Alexandra Johnstone, Pete Smith, Neil Gunn, Molly Watson, Edward Pope, Asaf Tzachor, Caitlin Douglas, Christian Reynolds, Neil Ward, Jez Fredenburgh, Clare Pettinger, Tom Quested, Juan Pablo Cordero, Clive Mitchell, Carrie Bewick, Cameron Brown, Christopher Brown, Paul J. Burgess, Andy Challinor, Andrew Cottrell, Thomas Crocker, Thomas George, Charles J. Godfray, Rosie S. Hails, John Ingram, Tim Lang, Fergus Lyon, Simon Lusher, Tom MacMillan, Sue Newton, Simon Pearson, Sue Pritchard, Dale Sanders, Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Megan Steven, Alastair Trickett, Andrew Voysey, Christine Watson, Darren Whitby, Kerry Whiteside
Published on 12 October 2023


We report the results of a structured expert elicitation to identify the most likely types of potential food system disruption scenarios for the UK, focusing on routes to civil unrest. We take a backcasting approach by defining as an end-point a societal event in which 1 in 2000 people have been injured in the UK, which 40% of experts rated as “Possible (20–50%)”, “More likely than not (50–80%)” or “Very likely (>80%)” over the coming decade. Over a timeframe of 50 years, this increased to 80% of experts. The experts considered two food system scenarios and ranked their plausibility of contributing to the given societal scenario. For a timescale of 10 years, the majority identified a food distribution problem as the most likely. Over a timescale of 50 years, the experts were more evenly split between the two scenarios, but over half thought the most likely route to civil unrest would be a lack of total food in the UK. However, the experts stressed that the various causes of food system disruption are interconnected and can create cascading risks, highlighting the importance of a systems approach. We encourage food system stakeholders to use these results in their risk planning and recommend future work to support prevention, preparedness, response and recovery planning.

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