Linking agricultural policies with obesity and noncommunicable diseases: A new perspective for a globalising world

C Hawkes, Sharon Friel, T Lobstein, Tim Lang

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In light of the shift in policy paradigm in agriculture from state intervention to market liberalisation and globalisation, this paper develops a series of hypotheses on the relationship between agricultural policies and consumer diets. The first hypothesis is that the paradigm shift has led to greater specialisation of production, so changing the ability and incentive for producers to supply certain foods relative to others. Second, the shift has affected farmgate prices (both up and down), so creating opportunities for the industries which purchase farm commodities (the food consuming industries - FCIs) to substitute lower priced ingredients, thereby influencing the nutritional quality and content of foods available in the marketplace. Third, it has increased the ability of the FCIs to " add value" through product innovation and marketing, creating a market characterised by highly differentiated products targeted to individualised preferences, thus increasing the acceptability of a wider variety and quantity of food products.The changing agricultural policy paradigm has therefore altered the environment in which consumers make their food choices, in the form of food availability, affordability and acceptability. Nevertheless, the paper finds no clear pattern when it comes to health; the changes have affected both " unhealthy" and " healthy" foods and ingredients. The key process of importance for health, then, is not whether the " ingredients" produced by agriculture are healthy or not, but how they are substituted, transformed, distributed and marketed through the supply chain (e.g. vegetable oils into transfats).This leads to an important implication: that policies to intervene directly in agricultural production to promote healthy eating are unlikely to be effective or efficient if they do not take into account how foods are processed, distributed and marketed through the supply chain. In practice, this means that the potential for policy interventions in agriculture to improve diets is limited - but nevertheless potentially important where it exists given the upstream nature of the change. Incentives could be created for the FCIs to substitute " healthier" ingredients in their products, and/or to sell more of them, in instances where these changes can be passed all the way to the consumer. Greater investment could also be made in fruit and vegetable production for local markets.Along with testing the hypotheses established in this paper, the research priority should to identify the incentives that influence the products produced by the FCIs, with the objective of finding those most amenable to leveraging the supply chain towards healthier eating.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)343-353
    JournalFood Policy
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


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