Food Governance/Food Policies


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.  

The dynamics of food governance systems are closely related to power relations and market architecture within food systems. Therefore, contemporary food governance is becoming more and more centralised. International and transnational actors play important roles in designing food policies and food politics. At the same time, both growing political awareness and the urgency of current global challenges allow for alternative, bottom-up, and democratic initiatives come into the fore. Within the frame of food sovereignty and re-localization of food supply chains, new perspectives and policies become incorporated into the mainstream, global agencies agenda (see FAO, EU Green Deal, Sustainability Goals).  

The goals and the consequences of food policies need to be differentiated and evaluated across various time points and perspectives. To increase the efficiency of food policies, their social, economic, political and environmental impact needs to be monitored and managed. Food policies are developed and implemented by various governmental bodies and agencies with different goals in sight, therefore it is not rare for them to contradict one another instead of promoting a synergistic effect. Hence, in recent years, there has been an increased demand for integrated and interdisciplinary approaches for the definition of food policies, which would increase the number of food policy councils and other similar coordinating bodies.  

Food policies are implicitly or explicitly part of every political system. Whenever there are social, political, cultural, and economic goals expressed and realised, the food system is affected. In contemporary food regimes, there are both local, national, and international actors taking part in discussions on different goals and methologies for food policies. One of the most important food governance bodies focused on food policy is the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, established in 1945. Its aim encompasses four specific goals: (1) improving nutrition and living standards in member nations; (2) improving the efficiency of production and distribution of all food and agricultural products; (3) better the conditions of rural populations; and (4) expand the world economy in such a way that it would ensure humanity's freedom from hunger. 

Food policy agencies at different levels and domains: 

  • Food policy councils 
  • Codex Alimentarius (CODEX) has established the standards for food products for many years, serving both as a guidance and a point of reference for national regulations 
  • WHO 
  • Associations of food producers 
  • State governments and agencies (e.g. USDA, DEFRA) 
  • Environmental NGOs 
  • Slow Food movements 
  • EFSA (European Food Safety Council) 
  • Scientific bodies 
  • Local authorities 

a) Academic/peer reviewed

Candel, J.J.L. Food security governance: a systematic literature review. Food Sec. 6, 585–601 (2014). 

Hunt, A. R. (2015). Civic engagement in food system governance: A comparative perspective of American and British local food movements. Routledge. 

Løvhaug, A.L., Granheim, S.I., Djojosoeparto, S.K. et al. The potential of food environment policies to reduce socioeconomic inequalities in diets and to improve healthy diets among lower socioeconomic groups: an umbrella review. BMC Public Health 22, 433 (2022). 

Jelsøe, E. (2015). Dietary guidelines: nutritional health communication versus sustainable food policy. Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies, 14(2), 36-51. 

Neil W. Smith, Food Policy, Reference Module in Food Science, Elsevier, 2016, 

Oosterveer, P. (2005). Global food governance. Wageningen University and Research. 

Sonnino, R. (2019). The cultural dynamics of urban food governance. City, Culture and Society, 16, 12-17. 

b) Other sources 

EU Quality Schemes (PDO – protected designation of origin; PGI – protected geographical indication; GI – geographical indication): 

Green Deal by EU

Regional FG structures: 

Urban FG (the analysis of 17 cities in Canada, US and UK): Sonnino 2019.