Food Policy Connections
Policy connections are important because many urgent food system issues – such as obesity or food-related climate impacts – are multifaceted and do not easily fit the institutional structures of government, which tend to be organised by responsibility for individual policy sectors, such as health, agriculture or trade.
Major food-related challenges are seen to be systemic in that their causes and outcomes are complex and connected, spanning several policy areas. To tackle complex, systemic problems effectively, policy-making needs to be connected across departments, so the resulting polices work together and achieve benefits across the system.
I have conducted research into how connected food policy is in England - looking at how effectively different parts of the national government are working together on issues that cut across departmental boundaries. The research involved a 'bottom up' screening, based on document analysis and interviews, of where issues were perceived to be connected, and where there was need for issues to be tackled in a more joined-up way.
The screening identified nine important food policy issues being tackled in a connected way (or where the approach aspired to be connected).
- Agricultural Technology
- Animal and Plant Health
- Antimicrobial Resistance
- Childhood Obesity
- Climate Change
- Food Labelling
- Public Food Procurement
- Rural Issues
The screening identified 14 examples of ‘disconnects’, where food issues were not being connected across government:
- Agriculture and Public Health
- Agri-tech and Rural Connectivity
- Children’s Food Interventions
- Climate Change
- Dietary Guidelines
- Food Supply Chain Policy
- Food Labelling and Composition
- Innovation and Nutrition
- Interests of different client groups.
The research also identified disconnected perceptions on how connected the current approach is, between those working inside government and those outside. Perceptions of dis/connection are rooted in visions for the food system, including whether it should prioritise health, environmental, economic or social objectives. Interviewees working inside government (as civil servants or other officials) tended to think that food policy was already fairly well connected, while interviewees working on food policy outside government (in business, civil society, or academia) tended to think it was not. This highlights that the search for policy connectedness and coherence is not merely a technical exercise in adjusting policies. This has important implications for policymakers looking to explore connections in future, including the need to build consensus through an inclusive approach.
I've written an accompanying blog on the importance of food policy connections and disconnections.