This paper assesses the extent to which the recommendations of 41 food reports could transform the food system. It argues that few reports are targeting “leverage points” that could result in the most change, and that reports often neglect the implications of power differences between actors.
The paper codes report recommendations that do correspond to leverage points into six categories, based on the work of systems thinker Donella Meadows:
- System paradigm - e.g. new governance structures.
- Power, control structures and goals - e.g. adoption of whole-government policies aimed providing healthier diets.
- System rules - e.g. ensuring no expansion of agricultural land onto high-carbon landscapes.
- Information flows - referring to interconnections between different elements of a system.
- Feedback loops - e.g. assessing research needs to help inform policy.
- System elements and adjustment mechanisms - e.g. increasing research spending on certain food issues.
The figure below shows the percentage of report recommendations in each category. For example, 5.6% of recommendations address system paradigms.
Image: Figure 4, Slater et al. Distribution of recommendations by food system leverage points.
In the discussion, the authors note that many recommendations use language with much room for interpretation - for example “support”, “reduce”, “promote” or “encourage” - rather than giving specific guidance on how the recommendation should be implemented. They also note that recommendations frequently tend to “avoid challenging existing political and economic arrangements and structures that perpetuate existing systems”. Reports published by market-based actors were less likely to suggest political solutions, while state or civil society-funded reports were more likely to endorse more radical or transformative actions.
Today's food systems are driving several intersecting public health and ecological crises of global concern. Acknowledging this, numerous major reports have made wide-ranging recommendations for achieving ‘transformative’ food systems change. However, no studies have yet analysed the transformative potential of these recommendations. Here we undertake a documentary analysis to assess the transformative potential of the recommendations of forty-one such reports. The report recommendations were coded against three systems science frameworks and organised by year published and actor type. We found a low number of reports made recommendations tackling food systems leverage points necessary to affect truly transformative change. Recommendations tended to ignore political economy factors, including power asymmetries between actors. The majority of recommendations were limited to adjusting or reforming rather than transforming food systems, indicating a mismatch between rhetoric and potential action.
Slater, S., Baker, P. and Lawrence, M., 2022. An analysis of the transformative potential of major food system report recommendations. Global Food Security, 32, p.100610.