Uppsala University is part of a multi-million SEK initiative for sustainable food systems

1 december 2020

Vegetable buffet

Research in the four centres for sustainable food systems shall contribute to the UN's global sustainability goals under Agenda 2030 and consider ecological, economic and social sustainability.

Uppsala University is a partner in four new national centres for food research and innovation, which recently received a total of SEK 192 million in grants from Formas, a Swedish government research council. One of these centres is Blue Food – Centre for the Seafood of the Future, which aims to improve the conditions for and build knowledge about sustainable food production from lakes and oceans.

“It’s about everything from not over-exploiting resources and cultivating new fish and algae species to getting consumers to try new healthy and sustainable seafood,” says Gunilla Rosenqvist, Director of Blue Centre Gotland, a collaboration with Uppsala University, Region Gotland and the County Administration Board of Gotland.

A national initiative has been launched to develop four interdisciplinary centres of expertise and research with the aim of creating more sustainable and competitive food systems. Uppsala University is the only higher education institution that is a partner in all four centres that have been granted funding from Formas. The new centres bring together academia, business and industry and industry associations along with regions and municipalities from all over Sweden.

Blue Food – Centre for the Seafood of the Future is managed from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, has a budget of SEK 48 million and Uppsala University as one of eight participating partners. At Uppsala University, the application process was led by Gunilla Rosenqvist, Professor in Behavioural Ecology and project manager of the collaborative project Blue Centre Gotland. This project is part of the research at the Blue Food Centre that will be done at the Ar Research Station in northern Gotland.

“At the Ar Research Station, the research has been on fish ecology, algaculture or algae cultivation, and other sustainable forms of aquaculture. An important aspect of the new national Blue Food centre is that the research will be done in collaboration with entrepreneurs and innovators throughout Sweden, but of course also particularly on Gotland,” says Gunilla Rosenqvist.

Sustainable, Swedish-produced seafood

Blue Food has 70 support partners ranging from small fish farmers to large companies such as Orkla, Coop, ICA and a number of Sweden’s regions. This will increase communication between industry and the research community about the needs of each of the parties, according to Gunilla Rosenqvist. One of the challenges is to reach consumers and get them to choose sustainable food such as algae, or new, under-utilised fish species. Another is to get producers to make full use of the resources, and to utilise new resources.

“In addition, a circular economy idea is needed where industry uses all of the fish, even those parts that are not fillets. Either for other types of food or, as a last resort, for energy. The idea is that we should be able to use more of the proteins that we actually have in our oceans in a sustainable way, and more for our own consumption – not for mink fodder, for example.”

With innovative circular solutions, increased knowledge and a strengthened market, the Blue Food Centre aims to create the conditions for long-term and sustainable production of sea food in accordance with the UN's global sustainability goals within Agenda 2030.
Photo: Blue Food – Centre for the Seafood of the Future

Research into cultivated blue food

This investment in seafood is also about increasing Sweden’s food production and becoming more self-sufficient. Research is also needed to clarify whether there are risks associated with eating algae or fish from the Baltic Sea. In the summer of 2019, researchers tested algae grown at the Ar Research Station, and they were below the limits for environmental pollutants.

“In order to get enough new protein, we will need to cultivate fish, algae and other seafood. However, it is important that this is done in a sustainable way so that it does not pollute the oceans. For example, algaculture in the Baltic will take up nitrogen and phosphorus from the water, which can reduce eutrophication.”

According to Gunilla Rosenqvist, we can also grow fish in sustainable ways on land using acquaponics, where nutrients from the fish tank circulate to plants that purify the water, which then goes back to the fish tank. Another form of sustainable aquaculture combines mechanical and biological filters in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). This allows you to grow more fish while using less water, and the waste products from the fish can be used as fertiliser for crops.

A number of projects for a healthier marine environment

“Unexploited fish species from the Baltic Sea and lakes can also be consumed, for example in the form of fish burgers. Non-oily fish such as flounder can also be eaten without risk,” says Gunilla Rosenqvist, adding:

“I’m very happy that Formas has chosen to invest in blue food, it’s about real innovation in seafood in a broad sense.”

At the moment, preparations are also under way at the Ar Research Station to start the ReCod project. This is one of three large-scale environmental projects within the BalticWaters2030 foundation which started in September.

“I am very grateful for opportunities to work with the environment in the Baltic Sea, and I see great benefits for Uppsala University in being able to develop research at the Ar Research Station and on Gotland,” says Gunilla Rosenqvist.

Centres of expertise and research granted funding for sustainable food systems:

BLUE FOOD – Centre for the Seafood of the Future
Main applicant organisation: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
Total budget applied for (SEK):48,000,000
Participating partners: University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala University, Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), Innovatum, IVL, Orkla, Region Västra Götaland, Region Stockholm
Contact at Uppsala University: Gunilla Rosenqvist, Department of Earth Sciences

Plant-based proteins for health and wellbeing (PAN Sweden)
Main applicant organisation: Örebro University
Total budget applied for (SEK): 47,942,322
Participating partners: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Chalmers University of Technology, Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), Uppsala University, Swedish Food Federation, Max Hamburgare, Orkla, Örebro Municipality, Region Örebro, Lantmännen, Lyckeby, Many Ways, BioGaia, GE Healthcare, ICA, Coor
Contact at Uppsala University: Nicklas Neuman, Department of Food Studies, Nutrition and Dietetics

Food Innovation Enabling Sustainable Transition (FINEST)
Main applicant organisation: Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), Borås
Total budget applied for (SEK): 47,996,020
Participating partners: Chalmers University of Technology, Uppsala University, Region Västerbotten, Umeå Municipality, LRF, Swedish Food Federation, Rural Economy and Agricultural Societies, Mycorena, Lantmännen, Solina-Sweden, IKEA Food Service, Lyckeby Culinar, Skira, Axfoundation, Foodhills AB, ICA
Contact at Uppsala University: Thomas Lennerfors, Department of Civil and Industrial Engineering

SustAinimal – a collaborative research centre exploring the future role of livestock in sustainable and competitive Swedish food production systems
Main applicant organisation: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala
Total budget applied for (SEK): 47,999,996
Participating partners: Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), National Veterinary Institute SVA, Uppsala University, Linköping University, Dalarna University, Lantmännen, Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF), Rural Economy and Agricultural Societies, Norrmejerier, KLS Ugglarps, Agroväst, Vreta Kluster business park, Växa Sverige, Gård & Djurhälsan, Naturbeteskött i Sverige Ideell förening, Swedish Grassland Society
Contact at Uppsala University: Salman Toor, Department of Information Technology