Press Releases

2009 MERL Annual Lecture – debating the future of British food – University of Reading

Release Date : 08 October 2009

The sustainability of the British food industry is hitting the headlines. Issues such as globally sourcing supermarkets, the sharp decline in farm incomes, environmental issues and health concerns about food safety all cited as possible problems.

On Tuesday 20 October, The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) will host its 2009 Annual Lecture, Great British food and its future. This special event is being held in partnership with the Newbury and District Agricultural Society (NDAS), who are celebrating their centenary this year.

In a topical twist from the normal lecture format, this event offers the public a wonderful opportunity to quiz a panel of experts on the sustainability of the British food industry.

The timely debate will take place in the University of Reading's magnificent Great Hall on the London Road Campus. Expert and prominent voices will discuss the important issues that surround the future of food, and welcome questions from what promises to be a packed and animated audience.

Christine Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Reading, will be part of the expert panel. She said:

"The evening promises to be extremely interesting and I'm sure will lead to some lively debate. There are crucial issues surrounding the sustainability of British food that need to be raised and discussed. Climate change, food chain & health and food security are all concerns going forward, and the University of Reading is proud to be a research leader in these key areas."

Chairing the debate will be Dudley Fishburn, former Executive Editor of The Economist and Member of Parliament for Kensington. Also on the panel will be Mark Price, Managing Director of Waitrose and Lady Cranbrook MBE, Vice-President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

They will be joined by Nick Weir from f3 local food consultants, and Founder member of Stroud Community Agriculture and Stroudco Food Hub, as well as Richard Macdonald CBE, Director General of the National Farmers' Union.

Richard Macdonald said: "Food security against a background of climate change is suddenly a big issue for everyone in Government and society. How can we produce more and impact less? I am looking forward to the debate and exposing the difficult issues and choices that we have to grapple with."

Simon Carter, Chairman of NDAS added: "By joining with MERL we are acknowledging the importance of the last 100 years in agriculture and rural life. We are making a statement to show that as a Society we are concerned with issues pertinent to the future of British farmers and agriculture."

This event will be held at the University's Great Hall on Tuesday 20 October beginning at 7pm. It is free to attend but to request a ticket and submit a potential question for the panel, please email


For all University of Reading media enquiries please contact James Barr, Press Officer tel 0118 378 7115 or email

Notes for Editors:

The Museum of English Rural Life, in Redlands Road, Reading, was founded by the University of Reading in 1951 to reflect and record the changing face of farming and the countryside. It houses designated collections of national importance that span the full range of objects, archives, photographs, film and books. Today, it forms part of the University's Museums and Collections Service. The Museum operates as a major resource and research centre for the history of food, farming and the countryside with links into the School of History and other academic departments at the University.

The Newbury and District Agricultural Society was formed in 1909 to provide an annual show which served the interests of the local people of Newbury. Over the past 100 years it has grown to be the Royal County of Berkshire Show and to be one of the best agricultural shows in the country. Further information from Susan Carter on 01491 874397 or 07711 420 586.

The Panellists

Dudley Fishburn (Chair)

Dudley Fishburn is on Reading University Council. He has just retired from the Board of HSBC Bank, having also been Executive Editor or The Economist and Member of Parliament for Kensington. Dudley has lived on the Englefield Estate in Berkshire for most of his life. For 10 years he was Treasurer of the National Trust. He has longstanding connections to a number of universities, having been the first non-American to serve on the Board of Harvard University; he currently chairs the Visiting Committee to Cambridge University library. He is Vice Chairman of the Peabody Trust and chairman of a number of public companies.

Mark Price, Managing Director, Waitrose

Mark Price was appointed Managing Director, Waitrose in April 2007, and is responsible for the 201 Waitrose shops of the John Lewis Partnership. Mark joined the Partnership on the Graduate Training Scheme in 1982, before becoming Managing Director of John Lewis High Wycombe and then John Lewis Cheadle. Mark transferred to Waitrose in February 1998 as the Partnership's first Marketing Director, and in 2000 was additionally given responsibility for retail operations, becoming Director of Selling & Marketing. Immediately prior to his current role, Mark had been at John Lewis since 2005, in the roles Managing Director, Partnership Development and John Lewis Development Director. As well as being Managing Director of Waitrose, Mark is also a member of the CIES Food Forum Board of Directors, President of the grocery industry charity, Caravan, and is Chair of His Royal Highness Prince Charles' Rural Action Programme.

Lady Cranbrook, Vice President, CPRE

Caroline Cranbrook is a food campaigner who has been successful in halting the domination of supermarkets in rural areas. Her research has proved that small, locally owned shops can thrive for the mutual benefit of farmers, shoppers and the community. Caroline received an MBE in 2006 for her campaign to keep local abbatoirs and thus reduce animal cruelty and food miles. Her work has been published by CPRE as Food Webs (1998) and The Real Choice (2006), and she has been called "the doughtiest fighter for good sense in agriculture" by none other than Prince Charles.

Christine Williams, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise) and Professor of Human Nutrition, University of Reading

Professor Williams obtained her BSc Nutrition from Kings College, University of London in 1973 and her PhD (Medicine) from Guys Hospital Medical School in 1978. She was Reader in Nutritional Biochemistry at the University of Surrey before becoming the first Hugh Sinclair Professor of Nutrition at the University of Reading in 1995. She was Head of the School of Food Biosciences between 2003-2006 and in August 2006 was appointed the Dean of Life Sciences.

Her research is primarily concerned with understanding the impact of dietary fats on human health, particularly in relation to cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance. She is frequently involved in providing advice to government and industry on matters relating to dietary policy and actively engages in dissemination of nutritional science to the public. In 1999 she was awarded the Royal Society of Medicine Gold Medal in Nutrition for her contribution to scholarship and education in nutrition. She is member of a number of expert and advisory committees. In the UK she is a Member of the Governing Body of the British Nutrition Foundation, she Chairs the BBSRC Agri-Food Committee and sits on the BBSRC Appointments Board. She was appointed a


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