Knowledge for better food systems

Policy packaging can make food system transformation feasible

FCRN member Lukas Paul Fesenfeld has co-authored this paper, which surveys people from China, Germany and the United States to assess levels of public support for various types of policy aimed at reducing meat and fish consumption. It explores how “packaging” several policies together can increase acceptance among voters.

The paper first shows how the presence of particular policies in a bundle affects voter approval (below). For example, including taxes on meat and fish products tends to decrease support, while stricter farming standards in the bundle tend to increase support.

Image: Figure 1, Fesenfeld et al. Effects of policy design attributes on the proportion of respondents supporting a policy package by country.

In all three countries studied, more people support policies that lead to food price increases when those policies are combined with stricter farming standards and lower subsidies for meat and fish producers. In China, most combinations of policies receive support from over half of respondents and most respondents support measures including high taxes on meat and fish. In Germany and the United States, fewer packages with these taxes draw majority support. The authors note that in China, the state generally takes a stronger role in regulating the economy than in Germany and the United States, and that this could explain some of the differences in attitudes between China and other countries.



Redesigning food production and consumption is key to limiting global warming, soil erosion and biodiversity loss. Yet, transforming the food system may involve political feasibility problems, as potentially effective policy interventions interfere with citizens’ daily lives. Here, we show that policy packaging—the systematic bundling of different policy measures—can help to mitigate the potential trade-off between political feasibility and problem-solving effectiveness. We use conjoint experiments with citizens from China, Germany and the United States to scrutinise support for different combinations of policies aimed at reducing food systems’ environmental impacts. Our results do not support the widespread claim that costly market-based or push measures per se receive less support than non-market-based or pull measures. Instead, they show that citizens are likely to support even costly policies, but this support varies by country and depends on the specific combination of policy measures, their stringency and revenue earmarking.



Fesenfeld, L.P., Wicki, M., Sun, Y. and Bernauer, T., 2020. Policy packaging can make food system transformation feasible. Nature Food, 1(3), pp.173-182.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource chapter What can be done to shift eating patterns in healthier, more sustainable directions?


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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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