Food governance (FG) involves a network of actors, legal regulations, and food-related policies at different levels in a particular city, region, state or at the international level. FG should be seen as a domain of multi-level and multi-actor initiatives addressing food concerns, food-related risks, public health problems, environmental issues, inequalities within food systems, food market and food distribution chains, animal welfare, food safety, and many more. FG include, therefore, all kinds of regulatory arrangements connecting the public (from local to state to global), markets, NGOs, and the private sectors, all of which shape the food environment. According to Jeroen J. L. Candel (2014), food governance can be defined as “the formal and informal interactions across scales between public and/or private entities ultimately aiming at the realization of food-related values and interests”.
Conventionally, food governance has mostly been defined and enacted at the state-nation level. In the last decades, those systems face more and more challenges from global modernity – especially, globalised food supply chains. In particular, governance systems need to address not only food safety market-related issues, but also climate-, technology- (e.g. GM-foods), and pandemic-related issues. The tensions between actors and interests are reflected in the complexity and conflicts within governance systems. This complexity and incoherence within FG makes it difficult to diagnose different situations and navigate between multiple scales and FG actors.
Food policies are governments’ interventions that target food systems in order to achieve specific food-related goals and programmes. Food policies can be endorsed by different policymakers, at local, regional, state or international levels. Food policies comprise legal and regulatory actions impacting food production, distribution, consumption, and food waste management. The goals of food policies are mainly focused on nutrition, health, and food safety, but they also include food economy and food justice, food labelling, food sovereignty, sustainability goals, cultural values, communities’ resilience, and collective well-being. Food policies can use a wide range of tools to transform food systems: dietary guidance, education, food aid programmes, food labelling, food safety laws, certification schemes, taxation and food price regulations, subsidizing particular sectors of food production, and many more. They differ in their effectiveness and social acceptance in particular social and historical contexts.
Food policies may be enacted as explicit and implicit public policies. Explicit ones address food-related problems and are usually connected to specific aspects of food security. However, government interventions may also impact food systems as an indirect effect of other developments, public health initiatives, education proposals, environmental plans, and other kinds of public policies. For example, migration, anti-poverty, and labour market policies are considered to be tools mainly pertaining the field of social policy, however, they also impact food systems, therefore enacting as implicit, non-direct food policies.