Entire Family Food Survey data to be released by Defra

Government data spanning more than 40 years is set to be released for public online viewing by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as part of its open data campaign.


Keeping track of dietary habits

In 1939, the wartime government had a number of concerns about food policy, with the general public asking questions such as: Do people have access to a sufficient variety of food for a healthy diet? Could the country produce enough to feed itself? Would high food prices force people to go hungry?

A survey was then designed and answers from the public were compiled into a data base, forming what was first known as the Wartime Survey, as it was first compiled in July 1940. Now known as the Family Food survey, it will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.

As part of the Year of British Food and Defra’s commitment to open up its data, the entirety of the Family Food Survey’s data will be released in three stages between December and June:

Stage 1

The first stage will include data already available in a number of formats on the Engineering Science and Research Council’s UK Data Service, covering the years 1974-2000. It will be made discoverable on the data.gov.uk website.

Stage 2

The stage will include raw survey level data from 2001 to the present, which is on Microsoft Access databases held by the Office for National Statistics. According to Defra, ‘‘This is richer than data on the UK Data Archive, but it will need to be anonymised to be released. We will need to work with ONS and others to do this.’’

Stage 3

Food Survey Reports from 1940 to the 1970s, will be digitised and released online. The entire data is currently ‘‘in a filing cabinet in Defra’s York office.’’


Long road head

It is a large job for Defra staff to handle, with a lot of scanning, reformatting and analysing data in order to make sure it is both safe and suitable for publication and reuse.

‘‘Understanding how the Family Food Survey and the kinds of data being collected have evolved will be essential for people looking to extract value from the data,’’ said the Defra blog.

‘‘What we will have ultimately though is a unique treasure trove of data for people to explore, and we can’t wait to see what users make of it.’’

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