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Food Policy Coherence

Government policies targeting the food system can undermine one another if their objectives and activities pull in conflicting directions. The concept of policy coherence is a way of describing the need to identify and address these conflicts, and to find opportunities for policies to reinforce one another, to make sure they are as effective as possible.

This brief describes what policy coherence is, why it is needed and how to analyse it in order to devise more coherent food policy.

What is policy coherence?  »

There are different types of coherence that we can consider, some of the main ones being:

1) Coherence of sectoral policies at the same level of government (e.g. agricultural policy and climate policy)

2) Coherence of activities at different levels of government (e.g local policy action on the ground is hampered by policies at national level)

3) Coherence of interventions in one country with another (e.g. developed country trade policy and developing country agriculture policy)

4) Coherence of policies with a normative goal (like the Sustainable Development Goals, or the broad objective of 'sustainable diets')

5) Coherence of action now with food systems in the future

The visual below - from the Policy Coherence brief (Parsons and Hawkes 2019) illustrates the principle, by working through how a health sector social marketing policy to promote fruit and vegetable intake could be coherent with some other policy objectives or activities, but undermine, or be undermined by, others. 

In reality, though there are some examples of coherence analysis of different policy sectors, for example trade and nutrition policy, and agriculture and climate policy, there any many interactions yet to be worked through. Without these analysis, there is a danger that ideas around policy coherence remain grounded in assumptions (e.g. if we tax sugary drinks for nutrition reasons then we will undermine economic goals around company productivity and jobs - when evidence suggests this is not the case). 

Another way to explore the coherence of food policies is to consider how well particular food systems issues are being connected across a whole government.  This is explained under Food Policy Connections.

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