What is a “food policy”?
A food policy is any decision, program or project that is endorsed by a government agency, business, or organization which effects how food is produced, processed, distributed, purchased, protected and disposed. Food policy operates at the global, national, provincial, regional, local and institutional levels. World Trade Organization regulations, welfare policies, farm subsidies and labelling standards are some examples of higher level polices that influence the food system.
At the local and municipal level, examples of food policies include:
- The regulatory requirements placed on someone planning to open a food-based business;
- Food purchasing decisions of institutional buyers and how they relate to the use of locally produced items;
- A decision by school officials on whether or not to allow junk food and soft drinks in the vending machines;
- The child nutrition requirements placed on daycares that receive municipal funding.
What is a Food Policy Council?
Food Policy Councils (FPCs) are comprised of individuals from all aspects of a local food system. They are often officially sanctioned through a government action such as a City Council motion or they can also be a grassroots effort. A Food Policy Council is an innovative collaboration between citizens and government officials. The goal is to provide a forum for advocacy and policy development that works towards the creation of a food system that is ecologically sustainable, economically viable and socially just. The primary goal of many Food Policy Councils is to examine the operation of a local food system and provide ideas and policy recommendations for how it can be improved.
Why create a Food Policy Council?
There are many reasons why local officials may want to create a FPC. The most significant may be to broaden the discussion of issues beyond agricultural production to enter into a more comprehensive examination of a food system. Due to multi-stakeholder nature of a Food Policy Council, a wide range of ideas and expertise can contribute to the creation of food policy.
The creation of a FPC can provide an opportunity for a focused examination of how local government actions shape the food system. It can also create a forum in which people involved in all different parts of the food system and government can meet to learn more about what each does—and to consider how their individual actions impact other parts of the food system.
What can a Food Policy Council do that is not already being done in government?
Food Policy Councils can bring a wide range of interests and voices together which do not typically work directly with each other
Food Policy Councils can examine issues which often go unexamined; such as the effectiveness of food assistance programs and the causes of hunger in a society
Food Policy Councils can enter into a more comprehensive approach to analyzing food system issues. Since members come from all sectors of the food system, they are able to recognize the interrelation between different parts of the food system and the need for coordination and integration of actions if policy goals are to be achieved. For example, if a key objective is to increase markets for locally produced food, a FPC can play a role to consider how decisions at all levels of a food system—not just farmers or governmental officials—but also food buyers, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers must also be considered in the equation.
Who typically serves on a Council?
Members of a Council come from a broad representation of issues and interests of stakeholders across the food system. For this reason, most FPC’s are considered to be a “non-partisan” forum and do not convene with a political agenda. Typical representatives might include farmers, consumers, anti-hunger advocates, food bank managers, labor representatives, members of the faith community, food processors, food wholesalers and distributors, food retailers and grocers, chefs and restaurant owners, officials from farm organizations, community gardeners, and academics involved in food policy and law.
Many FPC’s have city governmental officials involved as special advisors or “Ex-Officio” non-voting members which represent a wide variety of other departments, such as the Parks Board, cultural affairs or education. Locally elected officials may also be involved, however would not typically be appointed as a voting member. Some FPC’s have youth participating on the Council which then serve as liaisons back into their school system; providing food system education for their peers.
What is unique about a Food Policy Council?
- First, the process involves a diverse group of individuals discussing a broad range of food and agricultural topics. By using a “food systems” approach—which involves discussion about food production, processing, distribution, and retail sales, a detailed investigation into food and agriculture opportunities can occur.
- Second, Councils include officials from government agencies responsible for policy decisions affecting a municipal food system, e.g., City staff members, Park Board Commissioners and School Trustees. Experience shows that outside an FPC convening, these officials have little incentive or opportunity to talk with others in government to coordinate delivery of related programs.
- Third, the Councils create an environment in which people are able to ask questions usually not asked. For example, “How much food consumed is raised locally?”, “Does the municipality make efforts to purchase local food?”, and “What is the city’s hunger problem?”
What are the outcomes?
The primary outcome of Food Policy Council activities should be a creation or change in food policy. Examples of public policy changes catalyzed through FPC’s include:
- Urban agricultural resolution to conduct an “Agricultural Inventory” of city-owned property directing appropriate departments to identify city-owned land which may be available for community gardens or other agricultural uses;
- Procurement rule change encouraging city facilitates to purchase locally grown food;
- Commitment to the creation of a new composting program;
- Implementation of “Farm to School” and “Farm to Cafeteria” programs.
In addition to tangible policy changes, a number of other outcomes can result from the work of FPC’s. When government representatives have the chance to meet and interact with citizens as part of a focused discussion on food policy, a unique educational and networking opportunity occurs. One of the greatest benefits of an FPC is the inter-agency cooperation and understanding that results. This can illuminate programs and services where government spending is redundant, can identify ways government agencies can leverage more support and services between one another, and has helped form agency collaborations for grant funded programs.