Integrated and Sustainable Food Systems: Influencing Policy-Makers
Submitting InstitutionCity University, London
Unit of AssessmentSociology
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences: Agriculture, Land and Farm Management
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Summary of the impact
The Centre for Food Policy (CFP) at City University London has analysed
the food system's dynamics and impacts and how policy shapes and addresses
its challenges. CFP influence has taken two forms:
(1) Injecting the case for integrated policy analysis into policy
debates. For example:
- Establishing Ecological Public Health as a reasoned intellectual
framework, for instance in the Chief Scientist's Foresight Obesity
project as a unifying perspective, binding different disciplines and
data in the much-cited obesity `systems map'.
- Shaping food policy discourse, manifest in Defra's Food 2030
policy framework (2010).
- Taking the case to the food industry, during and after the food
commodity price `spike' (2007 to 2008) and the horsemeat scandal (2013).
(2) Advising high-level policy-makers. For example:
- Proposing in 2005 the creation of and then serving on (2008 to 10) the
Council of Food Policy Advisors.
- Advising the Cabinet Office for its Food Matters policy report
(2008) which led to the creation of a Cabinet sub-committee, the
Domestic Affairs (Food) Committee (DA(F)), chaired by Hilary Benn.
- Appointment to the Expert Advisory Group on Obesity (2008 to 2010)
following the Foresight obesity project and advising the £0.3bn Healthy
Weight Healthy Lives programme.
- Advising United Nations bodies on integrated policy.
- Being appointed as members of the Cabinet Office review of food policy
- Providing `inside track' Whitehall briefings to ministers, civil
servants, commissions and Select Committees as requested, e.g., on food
security following the commodity price `spike' (2008 to 2009).
- Prime Ministerial appointment to the UK Sustainable Development
Commission enabling leadership and actions inside government e.g., on
food security and sustainability.
- Appointment to Ireland's SafeFood Advisory Committee.
For over 20 years (at City University London since 2002), the CFP has
researched and promoted a complex, integrated approach to food policy,
arguing that a new paradigm is emerging and merits support. This
integrated approach demands more robust and contextually-grounded policy
frameworks. Accordingly, our modern social science-based policy analysis
relocates policy-making from being the prime preserve of governments to a
continuing negotiation between multiple actors in potentially (and
sometimes actually) contested space. The result is a multi-level and
multi-sectoral analysis which captures the dynamics between policy-makers
concerning the role of food in society, health, ecosystems, industry and
economy. The CFP team (comprising Professors Tim Lang and Martin Caraher
and Dr David Barling, with Research Assistants and Honorary Fellows) has
researched these dynamics through grant-aided and independent research
projects and direct participation. CFP policy is to work with and for the
public (non-profit) interest. Since 2002, we have researched:
(1) The complexity of food policy analysis (Barling, Caraher, Lang
and Honorary Fellows)
We have explored how to juxtapose and synthesise disparate bodies of
evidence on food's impact on public health, environment, social justice
and consumer choice. Our analysis was first mapped out in Social
Policy & Administration (2002) and extended in Food
Policy (OUP 2009; Highly Commended BMA book awards 2010) and Ethical
Traceability (Springer 2008). In each, we progressively built
the case for food systems change. The `evidence-based policy' approach,
epitomised by the medical Cochrane Collaboration thinking, while
appropriate for some issues, does not fully capture the realities of food
policy change. Our analysis continues (see Grants below). Specifically,
Lang co-wrote and led 5 papers at the Sustainable Development Commission.
Barling was a member of the EU ESF/COST Forward Look: European Food
Systems in a Changing World (published 2009) where he, Lang and
Rayner (CFP Fellow) wrote a `state-of-the-art' paper on European Food
Retail and Consumption trends. This work now seeks new metrics as part of
a global International Network for Food and Obesity Research, Monitoring
& Action Support (INFORMAS) collaboration led by Auckland and Deakin
Universities, with an externally funded PhD.
(2) Policy analysis of food security as sustainability (Barling and
Lang). CFP research contributed to policy thinking about food
and sustainability and argued that sustainability requires capacities not
just for production and supply but also for environmental and social
capacities (Food Wars, 2004). Food Security and Sustainability
Policy Research was conducted in (a) funded research reports (Esmeé
Fairburn Foundation and Soil Association grants, 2006, summarised in J
Royal Society Arts, 2008) by Barling and Lang (2006 to 2010) and
amplified and deepened with the Chatham House Food Futures project (2006
to 2009); (b) the development of a 6-cell `omni-standards' multi-factor
check-list for food sustainability, first presented to the Institute of
British Geographers, then incorporated and expanded at the Sustainable
Development Commission by Lang (2006 to 2011); (c) special research by
Barling and Lang for UNEP's Avoiding Future Famines (2012)
contribution to the UN Rio+20 conference (2012) on sustainable consumption
and production. This work continues (see Grants section).
(3) The development of Ecological Public Health (EPH) as an
integrating framework for twenty-first century public health (Lang,
Rayner, Caraher). EPH is `big picture' theorisation. It
suggests that policy-makers need to reconnect the social and biological
traditions of ecological thinking. Here CFP has suggested new heuristics
for how to deal with complexity. We suggest policy-makers can order what
may otherwise appear a policy `jumble' by using four `dimensions' —
material, bio-physiological, social and cultural — to manage complex
information. Our research on EPH began in the early 2000s. It matured in
research on obesity for government (Obesity Reviews 2008) and in Food
Policy (2009, Oxford University Press). It was fully
articulated as an intellectual framework in Ecological Public
Health (Routledge, 2012; Highly Commended BMA 2013). Lang and
Rayner's BMJ (2012) article on EPH has had over 12,000 views
online. We are now applying this framework to various policy `hotspots'
e.g., (a) antibiotic over-use (Lang and Rayner: forthcoming Public
Health special issue, 8 papers); (b) corporate dominance of public
governance, e.g., UK Department of Health's Responsibility Deals (papers
in The Lancet 2010 and BMJ 2010); (c) Caraher's role in an
Australian Health & Medical Research Council Aus$1.5M project on food
References to the research
2. Lang T. & Heasman M. (2004). Food Wars: the global battle for
minds, mouths and markets. London: Earthscan
4. Lang T., Barling D., & Caraher, M. (2009). Food Policy:
integrating health, environment & society. Oxford: Oxford
5. Rayner G. & Lang T. (2012). Ecological Public Health:
reshaping the conditions for good health. Abingdon:
Key Research Grants
1. Transparent Food: Quality and Integrity in food — a challenge
for chain communication and transparency research
[December 2009 to November 2011]. EU 7th Framework Research
Framework Co-operation and Support Action, with 10 partners for a total
grant of €995,094 of which City's grant was €89,874. Grant Agreement No:
245003. DB Work Package co-ordinator and Principal Investigator City
www.transparentfood.eu. Developed on work from 6th
Framework Ethical Traceability project
2. SENSE: HarmoniSed ENvironmental Sustainability in the European
food and drink chain [February 2012 to January 2015] is an EU
7th Research Framework collaborative research project under the
Knowledge Based Bio-Economy theme, with 23 partners including
universities, research institutes and SMEs which runs for 3 years with a
total grant of €.89m from which City's grant is €150,736. Grant agreement
No: 288974. DB Work Package co-ordinator and Principal Investigator City
University London. This develops methodologies for assessing the
environmental (and social) sustainability of food products for utilisation
by SMEs and applies it to the EU's Sustainability Policy agenda. www.senseproject.eu.
3. GLAMUR: Global and Local food chain Assessment: a
MUltidimensional peRformance-based approach [February 2013 to
January 2016] is an EU 7th Framework collaborative research
project under the KBBE theme, with 15 academic partners which runs for 3
years with a total grant of €2.93m from which City's grant is €228,585.
Grant agreement No: 311778. CFP Work Package co-ordinator and Principal
Investigator City University London. www.glamur.eu.
Develops new methodological approach to food systems change.
4. FoodLinks [2011 to 2014] EU 7th Framework — is
looking at knowledge brokerage between policy-makers, academics and NGOs
to improve sustainable consumption and production of food and to improve
communities of practice. www.foodlinkscommunity.net.
Total Value: €1.5M / CFP share €120.62k. CFP WP leader on Foodlinks
project as well (on public procurement of sustainable food community of
The quality of this research is very high; it has had a major influence
on the agenda in its field.
Details of the impact
The CFP has influenced food policy by injecting ideas into policy
discourse and influencing high-level policy-makers and bodies in the UK
and internationally. Here we provide seven examples.
(i) Establishment of the Council of Food Policy Advisors
As a result of proposals in a CFP paper [2005, see section 2], the
Council of Food Policy Advisers was created in 2008 by Hilary Benn, then
Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (Defra). Council membership represented diverse sectors and
experience to help drive Government thinking on how to identify priorities
and integrate appropriate policy across sectors. Lang was appointed to the
Council. This body was widely credited with championing a new drive for
(and integration of) food policy issues in central government, e.g.,
generating the Fruit and Vegetables Taskforce, normalising the notion of
sustainable diets and helping formulate Defra's landmark Food 2030
policy framework to address the impact of food consumption on both human
and environmental health and the general unsustainability of the food
system , , .
(ii) `Food Matters' policy report
When he became Prime Minister, Gordon Brown responded to CFP analysis in
Social Policy & Administration (2002) by requesting the first
UK review of integrated food policy since the Ministry of Food was
abolished in 1955. The review prioritised health and environmental
outcomes. Lang and Barling were invited to become two of the six-strong
advisory group. A civil servant on CFP's MSc was seconded back to co-write
the report. The publication of the data summary (January 2008) and the Food
Matters final report (July 2008 ) were widely welcomed in policy
circles and fuelled a seven month internal Whitehall debate which resulted
in the creation of a new Cabinet Sub-Committee — the Domestic Affairs
(Food) Committee (DA(F)) — to lead on better integration of industry,
health, environment and cultural thinking. The DA(F) was chaired by Hilary
Benn at the Ministerial level, with a cross-UK senior civil servant
liaison committee created in parallel between England and Devolved
(iii) Sustainable Development Commission Reports
The Prime Minister appointed CFP Director, Lang, to the Government's
Sustainable Development Commission (SDC). Lang led and co-authored a
series of SDC reports issuing formal advice to Government, including Looking
Back, Looking Forward: Sustainability and UK Food Policy 2000-2011
(March 2011)  and Food Security and Sustainability: the perfect mix
(July 2009) .
(iv) Tackling Obesity
The CFP accepted an invitation from the Chief Scientist's Foresight
programme in December 2005 to summarise the role of policy in tackling
obesity. This was the only policy strand of work undertaken in the major
"Tackling Obesities" project and final report. CFP proposals on the need
to address ecological public health and `policy cacophony' helped drive
the rare collaboration of three Departments of State and resulted in the
£0.3 billion `Healthy Weight Healthy Lives' programme 2007 to 2010 .
Two CFP members were appointed to the Expert Advisory Group and played
active parts in design and delivery until its closure by the Coalition in
(v) Influence on Food Companies
The CFP is regularly invited to be a `firm but acceptable critic' to food
companies by giving speeches, having private meetings, auditing and
critiquing industry practice. Examples since 2008 are: meeting Marks &
Spencer about Plan A (2009, 2010); speaking at two Waitrose closed
strategy meetings (2011 and 2012); addressing the UK grain trade (2013);
discussing with IGD (a food industry research body with 750 corporate
members) how to address the `omni-standards' for the auditing of food
sustainability which are now emerging with WRAP and IGD . To obviate
conflicts of interest the CFP does not accept funding from the food
(vi) Cabinet Office, Whitehall Briefings and Select Committee
The CFP has frequently provided private UK Cabinet Office and Whitehall
briefings and representation at Select Committee Enquiries. Examples
include: (a) Barling advised the creation of new UK food security
indicators (2008 to 10); (b) Lang asked to meet the Chair of the
Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) before the Food Security inquiry about
its remit and goal, after the SDC's closure; (c) appearing before the EAC
sustainable food inquiry (CFP Honorary Fellow Clutterbuck was an EAC
advisor); (d) appearing before the EFRA committee inquiry into food
(vii) European Union policies
The CFP was invited to present a paper on Common Agricultural Policy
reform to EU Commissioners for Health and Agriculture by the pan-EU NGO
Agriculture and Rural Consortium in 2010 . CFP 6th and 7th
Framework projects inform policy-making on environment and knowledge-based
bio-economy via EU Directorate General (DG) Research, a long-term impact.
Barling was invited to be expert advisor to the DG Sanco food chain
committee. Caraher was appointed to Ireland's influential SafeFood
Advisory Committee in 2010.
(viii) United Nations
The CFP's work on integrated policy has been referenced by multiple
agencies in the UN system. Professor Olivier De Schutter, Special
Rapporteur on Right to Food, read Food Wars as he began his term
and says this was one of his early influences . In 2009, he invited
Lang to advise on Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations in the
food sector, co-organised with the European Centre for Constitutional and
Human Rights and supported by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Hilary Benn MP.
 First report from the Council of Food Policy Advisors:
 Second Report of the Council of Food Policy Advisors "Food: a recipe
for a healthy, sustainable and successful future":
 Food Matters policy report, July 2008:
 Looking Back, Looking Forward: Sustainability and UK Food Policy
2000-2011 (March 2011)
 Food Security and Sustainability: the perfect mix. (July
 Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives: A Cross-Government Strategy for
England, available on request.
(and individual IDG contacts)
 EFRA Committee Food Security inquiry (reported 2009); EAC Sustainable
Food inquiry (reported 2012): http://tinyurl.com/ormynjg.
 Contacts from European Public Health and Agriculture Consortium.
 UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food (UN Office of High
Commissioner for Human Rights).