Food policy councils

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A Food Policy Council (FPC) consists of a group of representatives and stakeholders from many sectors of the food system. Instead of many advocates working on the isolated pieces of a food system, FPCs attempt to establish a platform for coordinated action at the local level: they engage with government policy and programs, non-profit initiatives, local business and food workers, among others. [1][2] FPCs can include, for example, anti-hunger and food justice advocates, educators, employees of non-profit organizations involved in food system reform, concerned citizens, government officials, farmers, grocers, chefs, food workers, business people, food processors and food distributors. Evidence from the USA shows that not all components of the food system are equally represented, with more participants from production, distribution and consumption than from processing and waste processing having participated in FPCs.[2] Inclusiveness of different sectors and perspectives on the food system is pursued through operation on the basis of democratic participation models to encourage stakeholder involvement and inclusion of diversity.[2][1][3] On account of their diverse composition and whole system perspective, FPCs create opportunities to discuss and strategize among various sectors and interests, in order to then recommend, or directly implement changes in the food system.[2]

Goals and Objectives

A survey of FPCs in the USA concluded that the central aim of most FPCs is to identify and propose innovative solutions to improve local or state food systems, making them more environmentally sustainable and socially just.[2] Other research found that primary concern of FPCs is related to food access, but other areas of work relate to land accessibility for growers (either urban or rural), urban agriculture zoning laws, nutrition, business development, and environmental issues related to agriculture.[3] The most recent survey of FPCs in the USA and Canada found that the top policy priorities for FPCs were healthy food access, economic development, fighting hunger, food production, food procurement, and land use planning.[4] These findings align with Purifoy’s analysis, which presented FPCs as an effective institution to integrate the environmental and food justice movements at three critical points: public health and safety, ecological health, and social justice.[5]

As regards the realization of these goals, drawing from interviews with representatives of 13 FPCs in the USA and Canada, Schiff (2008) found that the two primary roles of FPCs related to their activity as networkers and facilitators, and as educators in food systems sustainability. Furthermore, Schiff found that in building the capacity of others to implement, and in educating, FPCs were building “political capital” and capacity to move further in the development of more sustainable food systems. In fact, building political capital and influencing government decision-making, policy, and planning remains a primary goal in these efforts. Another survey yielded similar findings: the two most often cited purposes of FPCs were:

  1. to coordinate work in all the sectors within the food system of a specific geographic area
  2. to influence policy or work within government[2]

The same research also identified four more specific functions of FPCs:

  • to serve as a forum for discussing food issues, which includes their role as clearinghouses of food system information; drawing information, data, and opinions from many different sources;
  • to foster coordination between sectors in the food system;
  • to evaluate and influence policy, which includes creating urban agriculture guidelines, studying and mapping regional food security, securing land for urban gardens and urban agriculture through zoning laws, working on federal-level policies, conducting assessments of access to full service grocery/farmers markets, re-routing bus lines to improve access to fresh healthy food, supporting mandatory menu labelling, conducting food system assessments, drafting and pressing cities and counties to adopt food charters;
  • to launch or support programs and services that address local needs, which includes farm to school programs, expansion and management of farmers markets, establishing infrastructure to accept food stamps at farmers markets, school garden programs, community garden programs, school breakfast programs, institutional food purchasing programs, farmland preservation, urban gleaning programs to collect produce for food banks, buy local campaigns, funding and supporting construction of affordable housing for farm workers.[2]

Research on FPCs in Europe and other world regions shows similar activities. [6][7][1][4][8].


In practice, FPCs can take many organizational and legal forms, and can be formed by legislation, executive orders, grassroots organizing, or as initiatives of non-profit organizations.[2][3] They can also be organized according to where they are housed, i.e. governmental agency, citizen advisory board to a governmental agency, citizen advisory board, non-profit organization, grassroots group. Boden and Hoover (2018) propose that FPCs generally fall into five categories of organization: independent coalitions, councils housed in government, councils embedded in universities, autonomous non-profits, or part of larger non-profit organizations.[3] Regardless of the specific organizational form, FPCs often share the same techniques for participation, including pursuing long-term strategies, offering tangible solutions, focusing on place-based activism, seeking government buy-in, and establishing formal membership structures. [1][3][8]

Occurence of Food Policy Councils

The number of FPCs is increasing rapidly worldwide. FPCs are most prevalent in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom—but FPCs are active and emerging in Western Europe, Central Europe, and Australasia. For example, in March 2021, data from the John Hopkins University’s Centre for a Liveable Future indicated the presence of 361 FPCs in the United States and Canada combined, 44 FPCs in the United Kingdom, and 26 FPCs in Germany.

Networks of food system stakeholders go by various names. In North America, food policy council (FPC) is the most commonly used term, but these groups are also known as food councils, food coalitions or committees, food policy task forces, food alliances or food system networks. In Europe, some are considered FPCs, but others identify as food partnerships (most prevalent in the UK), boards, or steering groups. Some groups do not use the word 'policy' because they wish to avoid being perceived as political or partisan actors, whereas others focus on programmes as well as policy.

A list of FPCs and food policy groups in various countries in the Global North is compiled by the John Hopkins University’s Centre for a Liveable Future and can be found at:

Potential and Achievements

As remarked by several researchers, there is a need for more rigorous evaluation of the processes, outcomes, and impacts of FPCs’ work.[2][6][9] However, both single case studies and larger surveys suggest that FPCs often “have an exceedingly positive impact on their communities through food access programs, food retail strategy, and policy advising”.[3]

For example, one of few studies of a rural FPC in the USA concluded that Adam County FPC fosters group cohesion and collaboration with representatives of a variety of organizations that may not typically work together. Council members shared resources, expertise, and information to further the mission of the council; this also benefited members within their own organizations. Adam County FPC also helps coordinate complicated programs that aim to increase access to healthy food in their community.[10]

A synthesis of findings from a literature review and interview data led to the position that FPCs have five key potentials:[2]

  • to address public health through food access, hunger and food insecurity, and quality of food;
  • to affect national and state level policy debates;
  • to bring local food policy into the mainstream;
  • to address poverty and inequality;
  • to boost local economies.

These findings resonate with those of other case studies, including in the United States,[11][12] Sydney in Australia,[13] and Pisa and Milan in Italy[7]. Another case study in Oldenburg, Germany found that the FPC during its emerging phase provided a number of opportunities for learning, for sharing ideas, for experiencing capacities to act, and for developing a sense of care for food as a public good.[14]

Tensions and Challenges

A study of 13 FPCs in the USA and Canada found that due to unstable relationships with government, many FPCs encounter difficulties with policy work, focusing instead on programmatic work, which reduced their impact in the short term.[15] Other research has reached similar conclusions.[2]

In relation to that challenge, one tension experienced by many FPCs relates to their organisational form and institutional embedding: on the one hand structural autonomy gives freedom to FPCs, but places them in a difficult position to influence the food system. On the other hand, a stronger structural connection with local government to an extent reduces the freedom of action and openness of a FPCs, but facilitates access to decision-making structures and financial resources, among others. For example FPCs’ location inside or outside government is a crucial distinction: in-government FPCs may provide the councils with legitimacy and the listening ear of policymakers, while independence from governments may allow FPCs to critique their government more frankly.[3] Keeping operational costs down is also a struggle, as many FPCs do not employ full-time staff person, relying instead on networks of volunteers, and grant funding is hard to obtain.

Similarly, another study found that FPC members were concerned with the decision to establish as either a government-mandated or nongovernment organisation. All of the FPCs interviewed described one of their primary roles as being that of a voice for recommending new ideas or changes to government activities surrounding food policy and planning. The majority of research participants in this study suggested that establishment as a government entity can provide some degree of authority to aid in fulfilling a role as policy advocate, whereas creation strictly as a non-profit or as one of numerous committees or councils in a local government can lessen the strength and effect of this voice.[15]

A study of 10 FPCs in California encountered a similar situation.[16] While this study highlights the benefit of structural autonomy, it also calls for caution regarding one-size-fit-all organizational modes for FPC. For example, local governments can take a number of steps to engage effectively with FPCs. These can include:

  1. participating in FPCs by dedicating staff to attend and participate in FPC meetings and events, or providing other forms of in-kind support (such as meeting spaces);
  2. partnering with FPCs to help educate the public on available government resources or to gather advice on the best strategies for implementing public policies;
  3. embracing FPC policy proposals that advance local economic development, food security, anti-hunger, or related goals;
  4. engaging with FPCs as sounding boards for developing new policy ideas and proposals and as incubators of new civic leaders; or
  5. helping develop and launch FPCs in communities that do not have one.

Another challenge experienced by FPCs in north America as well as in Europe is difficulty sustaining promises of democratic participation. FPCs often have roles as vehicles for food democracy.[9] FPCs use collaborative governance frameworks because they allow citizens and members with varying interests to grapple with the complexities of food systems issues, deliberate on appropriate and timely strategies, and collectively agree on directions to pursue for policy change. Many FPCs also struggle with community representation both in determining who counts as community members and how community members are included in FPC decisions. One study found that all three FPCs investigated were engaging in models of democratic participation, but they struggled with including the voices of all those affected by the food system. Neither open recruitment nor the combination of appointments and ex officio membership was especially conducive to the inclusion of stakeholders.[3] All three FPCs struggled from a lack of economic, racial, and gender diversity, which was also the finding of a survey of FPCs in New England, USA.[12]. Similar challenges around the full realisation of democratic practice were reported from case studies of FPCs in Oldenburg, Germany.[14] Based on similar findings from case studies in Philadelphia, USA and Ghent, Belgium, another study specifically pointed out the need for stronger procedural justice measures.[17]

It is also argued that FPCs must exist within a political framework in order for their democratic achievements to be attainable.[3] An FPC structure with direct links to the government can enact comprehensive food-system change more easily. Although, as some research participants pointed out, government embedded FPCs have much less leeway because of official regulations, that embeddedness establishes a direct link with the policymaking bodies. Without a connection to food policymakers, food democracy does not transcend the confines of the FPC and thus necessarily falls short of its goal to change policy.[3]

Other challenges identified in FPC research ar:

  • Securing adequate and stable funding[2][6][4]
  • Designing an effective organizational structure[2][4]
  • Working in complex political climates[2]
  • Lack of time and of skills to engage in the policy process[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Moragues, A., 2016. Los Consejos Alimentarios: Una herramienta municipalista para la transformación del sistema alimentario. Revista Soberanía Alimentaria, Biodiversidad y Culturas, Barcelona.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 Harper, A., Shattuck, A., Holt Giménez, E., Alkon, A., Lambrick, F., 2009. Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned. Institute for Food and Development Policy.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Boden, S., & Hoover, B. M., 2018. Food policy councils in the mid-Atlantic: Working toward justice. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 8(1): 39–52.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Bassarab, K., Santo, R., Palmer, A., 2019b. Food Policy Council Report 2018. Johns Hopkins Centre for a Livable Future.
  5. Purifoy, D. M., 2014. Food policy councils: integrating food justice and environmental justice. Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum, 24, 375.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Scherb, A., Palmer, A., Frattaroli, S., & Pollack, K., 2012. Exploring food system policy: A survey of food policy councils in the United States. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 2(4), 3–14.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Forno, F., Maurano, S., 2016. Cibo, sostenibilità e territorio. Dai sistemi di approvvigionamento alternativi ai food policy councils. Rivista Geografica Italiana 123, 1–20.
  8. 8.0 8.1 RUAF. Urban Agriculture Magazine 36. Food Policy Councils, 2019. RUAF, The Hague, The Netherlands.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bassarab, K., Clark, J.K., Santo, R., Palmer, A., 2019a. Finding Our Way to Food Democracy: Lessons from US Food Policy Council Governance. Politics and Governance 7, 32–47.
  10. Calancie, L., Stritzinger, N., Konich, J., Horton, C., Allen, N.E., Ng, S.W., Weiner, B.J., Ammerman, A.S., 2017. Food Policy Council Case Study Describing Cross-sector Collaboration for Food System Change in a Rural Setting. Progress in Community Health Partnerships 11, 441–447.
  11. Lange, S.J., Calancie, L., Onufrak, S.J. Reddy, K.T., Palmer, A., Lowry Warnock, A., 2021. Associations between Food Policy Councils and Policies That Support Healthy Food Access: A National Survey of Community Policy Supports. Nutrients 13(2): 683.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Porter, C. A., Ashcraft, C. M., Iles, A. 2020. New England food policy councils: An assessment of organizational structure, policy priorities and public participation. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 8.
  13. McCartan, J., Palermo, C., 2017. The role of a food policy coalition in influencing a local food environment: an Australian case study. Public Health Nutrition 20, 917–926.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Sieveking, A., 2019. Food Policy Councils as Loci for Practising Food Democracy? Insights from the Case of Oldenburg, Germany. Politics and Governance 7, 48–58.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Schiff, R., 2008. The Role of Food Policy Councils in Developing Sustainable Food Systems. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 3: 206–228.
  16. Gupta, C., Campbell, D., Munden-Dixon, K., Sowerwine, J., Capps, S., Feenstra, G., & Van Soelen Kim, J., 2018. Food policy councils and local governments: Creating effective collaboration for food systems change. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 8(Suppl. 2): 11–28.
  17. Prové, C., de Krom, M.P.M.M., Dessein, J., 2019. Politics of scale in urban agriculture governance: A transatlantic comparison of food policy councils. Journal of Rural Studies 68: 171–181.