Policy Instruments for Sustainable Food Consumption: CORPUS - Enhancing the Connectivity between Research and Policy-making in Sustainable Consumption

Lucia Reisch, Sylvia Lorek, Sabine Bietz

    Research output: Working paperResearch


    The food policy domain highlights the complexity of the sustainability of food consumption. In addition to the ecological, social and economic aspects of food consumption, public health concerns are an integral factor in efforts to ensure the sustainable development of the food sector (Reisch et al., 2010). The intention of this discussion paper is to summarize the main policy instruments and assessment tools currently employed in relation to sustainable food consumption, thereby providing background information for the second CORPUS “Policy Meets Research” workshop which is to be held as part of the CORPUS project on sustainable food consumption. In general, governments trying to influence the sustainability of food systems have informationbased, market-based and regulatory instruments in their toolbox (Lorek et al., 2008). Their goal is to build a policy framework for appropriate action, and to incentivise, enable, empower and motivate the actors along the food chain to engage in more sustainable production and consumption. In addition, governments can influence markets and mindsets by stimulating and supporting voluntary self commitments by businesses. Moreover, governments and public bodies can themselves act as role models and market makers by choosing, and hereby actively supporting, sustainable alternatives (green public procurement). Last but not least, nonregulatory “nudges” – such as defaults and smart choice architecture design – can be applied within a libertarian, paternalistic approach to steer consumers’ choices subtly into more sustainable and healthier food choices (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). After discussing the backdrop to the paper, we look at the scope and scale of current and desirable policy instruments in the sustainable food domain. We join others in calling for a sustainable food policy framework which is coherent with other relevant policies and in which the instruments are designed and assessed from a systemic perspective. Short and middle-term goals that target different levels of changes in the food system are presented, as are relevant actions. In a closer analysis, we focus on the “hot spots”: health, organic (as well as local and seasonal) food, greenhouse gas emissions, food waste and the “mind and markets” gap evident among consumers as a result of the modern food system. We propose a framework for tackling these
    issues using the four instrument types. On the basis of previous voting rounds among CORPUS community members, we discuss several instruments, including the labelling of organic food, products’ carbon footprints and nutritional values, in more detail. Based on a “polycentric approach” to sustainability policy (Belz & Reisch, 2007) we conclude with recommendations on actions that consumers (in their role as market actors and consumer citizens), NGOs, the media, the food industry, retailers and governments can take in a shared pursuit of more sustainable food consumption and production.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherEuropean Commission
    Number of pages24
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
    SeriesCORPUS Discussion Paper

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