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NPL at the Royal Institution of Great Britain

World Metrology Day 2023

Measurements supporting the global food system

Food is integral to our quality of life

But have you ever thought about the essential role that metrology plays in the global food system? Every day, food is weighed and measured – and this needs to be done accurately to facilitate fair trade and food safety. If you don’t know how much a bag of rice weighs, how can you be sure you are paying a fair price? And if you don’t know exactly what is in the food you are consuming, how can you be certain that it’s safe? 

Why is metrology important?

It is vital that food is stored and transported at the correct temperature and humidity to avoid mass spoilage and reduce unnecessary waste. Without the science of metrology, how would we know what environment we are storing our food in, and how to control it? 

What is in our food?

When purchasing food, the end-user needs to feel confident they are receiving the correct product. That’s where metrology steps in to validate the quality and authenticity of our foodstuffs. Likewise, measurement science is vital in detecting contamination and bacteria, ensuring food safety and helping producers demonstrate that they meet the necessary food standards. 

What does NPL do?

All of this is supported by reliable measurements. and these measurements are becoming increasingly important in a world where demand for food has been growing steeply due to expanding populations and rising prosperity. NPL is the UK’s National Metrology Institute and maintains the national primary measurement standards and ensures that we all can use and rely on accurate measurements. 

What is NPL doing to help support the global food system?

NPL’s world-class scientific and measurement expertise is helping the agricultural technology industry to adopt high-tech solutions, where traditional agricultural solutions are no longer sufficient, helping to increase productivity whilst reducing resource inputs. 

We work on a number of projects in this area, including:

  • Employing a fruit picking robot that checks every fruit for colour, size and blemishes before harvesting it 

  • Devising 3D imaging technology to facilitate the breeding of new crop varieties  

  • Reducing wastage by sorting and grading potatoes to identify black hearts  

  • Monitoring livestock condition to increase the efficiency of rearing animals by precise individual control of feed and tracking their welfare.

In order to carry out this ‘precision agriculture’, NPL use a variety of sensors and techniques ranging from microwaves, optical light, ultrasound, computer vision and machine learning techniques. The work is aimed at producing industrial solutions for immediate field deployment and impact. 


Making harvests more efficient through automation

Read more about how we are developing an autonomous robotic system to pick soft fruit

Read more

Our research in precision agriculture

Discover how we are using 3D imaging in horticultural, agricultural, livestock and food processing environments

Read more

What is World Metrology Day?

World Metrology Day is an annual celebration of the signature of the Metre Convention on 20 May 1875 by representatives of seventeen nations. The Convention set the framework for global collaboration in the science of measurement and in its industrial, commercial and societal applications.  

This year’s theme, Measurements supporting the global food system, was chosen because of the increasing challenges of climate change and global distribution of food in a world whose population reached 8 billion at the end of 2022. Providing access to safe and affordable food remains one of the major challenges for governments worldwide, and with global food trade worth £22 trillion and accounting for approximately 20% of all global trade in 2021, it is an issue that affects the entire global population. 

Find out more and download the poster

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