Food systems

Understanding food systems - Achieving better policies

Better policies are needed to ensure that food systems around the world can meet a daunting riple challenge. Better policies are also essential to make sure food systems become more resilient across these domains. Such policies need to be coherent – that is, they need to take into account the many synergies and trade-offs between elements of the food system.

But achieving better policies for food systems is often made difficult by problems related to facts, interests, and values:

  • Facts: There is not always enough evidence available on the extent and characteristics of policy challenges related to food systems; about their synergies and trade-offs, and about the effectiveness and benefits and drawbacks of different policy instruments. In some cases, there is a gap between public perceptions and what the evidence says. 
  • Interests: Any policy reform is likely to create both winners and losers, and groups with diverging interests will try to influence the policy process. By itself, stakeholder involvement in policy making is not a bad thing, but it is essential to avoid policy capture – a situation where policy caters to a special interest rather than the public interest. 

  • Values: Discussions around food systems involve many ethical values, and people often differ in the values they emphasise. When faced with a trade-off (for example, between environmental sustainability on the one hand and affordable food on the other), this makes it difficult to achieve a consensus in society around relative priorities.
  • To complicate matters, frictions in one area (e.g. differing values) can reinforce frictions in another area (e.g. by making people less willing to consider facts that go against their initial beliefs).  

Work by the OECD has identified several good practices to set up robust, evidence-based, inclusive policy processes which can help prevent or manage such frictions around facts, interests, and values. These are reviewed in Making Better Policies for Food Systems.and summarised in a short policy brief. A wide range of OECD data and analysis can also help inform the design of better policies for food systems.