All areas of UK should have dedicated ‘Food Policy’ office, experts tell MPs

Developing local food policies would help to reduce inequality, the cost of living and food waste, according to Exeter researchers

All UK local authorities should have a dedicated “Food Policy” office to encourage healthier diets and sustainability, experts have told MPs.

Specialist work to support and fund local food strategies would also reduce food waste and help the vulnerable, according to academics from the University of Exeter.

They presented their evidence as part of Evidence Week in the UK Parliament, attended by MPs, peers and their staff.

The work of Dr David Monciardini, from the University of Exeter Business School, Ottavia Pieretto, research assistant, and Dr Tiago de Melo Cartaxo, from the University of Exeter Law School, is supported by Research England Policy Support. The team interviewed those involved with Milan’s food system early this year.

Milan is acknowledged worldwide for its significant commitment to developing a more inclusive and sustainable urban food policy. Milan established its Food Policy in 2015, creating a dedicated Milan Food Policy Office that has been pivotal during the Covid-19 emergency and beyond to reduce food waste and ensure access to healthier diets. During the pandemic neighbourhood food hubs provided highly nutritious food to over 6,000 households in need.

The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP), an international agreement focusing on local food systems, has been signed by more than 200 cities globally.

Researchers told Parliamentarians regions or cities looking to do similar work should partner with ‘anchor institutions’ – large organisations that have a significant stake in their local area. In Milan the municipality has worked with the Fondazione Cariplo which has an established network of business and third-sector organisations. Over time, the Food Office established partnerships with other ‘anchor organisations’, such as Assolombarda, the local business association, and Polytechnic University of Milan.

Experts also believe a tight governance structure is essential. In Milan there is a “control room” made of a small number of key decision-makers including people from the third sector; and for-profit organisations, who help to carry out a rigorous and independent technical and scientific assessment of results. This agile governance structure has enabled the city to be more resilient to crises and transformations and has led to a greater understanding of the food system’s needs and opportunities.

The MFP has a leading role in the Working Group Food of Eurocities, the network of 51 European cities active in food policy development, and in the C40 Food System Network, the international network of cities engaged in the fight against climate change. During the Covid-19 crisis the MFP office coordinated with other city officers, such as Toronto, Barcelona and Seoul, to foster policy learning and cooperation and gather knowledge, which helped them tackle the crisis effectively.

Researchers have recommended local authorities in Britain and beyond looking to carry out similar work should collaborate with anchor institutions and encourage cooperation between different municipal departments and public and private organisations.

Dr Monciardini said: “The UK Government should officially acknowledge the importance of supporting local food policies, for instance by setting up a national funding scheme to support local food strategies. All major UK local authorities could and should have a dedicated Food Policy Office, like the one active in Milan. The example of Milan shows that a local food policy can be developed and effectively delivered helping to reduce inequality, cost of living and food waste.”

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