5 facts about food policy

What we eat is a private matter? Not in the least! As a major global cause of harmful emissions, a measure of social inequality and a key factor in our health, our diet is part of the public discourse. To make our food system healthier and more resilient in the long term, policymakers need to act now.

Sabine Fischer
February 16, 2024

Food is more than just what we put on our plates. 

From climate change to health, the subject of food and nutrition impacts many areas of society. For example, roughly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by our diets and the way we grow the food we consume. Then there are the social aspects to be considered: Who can actually afford to buy healthy food in the first place? Who has access to the necessary resources and who is excluded? Our diets also play an important role in terms of our health and are one of the key reasons why conditions such as obesity and diabetes – which are also associated with social inequality – are spreading. “Furthermore, our diets don't just affect individual health. Based on the WHO's 'One Health Approach', which describes how human health is linked to the health of animals and our environment, food production also affects human health indirectly, for example through environmental and climate impacts,” says Stephanie Wunder, Head of the Sustainable Diets Team at Agora Agriculture and a member of the jury in our funding program “Future is served!”.  


Our diet is political!  

How can we ensure that our diet has a positive impact on our climate and health? One thing is clear: The responsibility goes beyond that of the individual. “In the public debate, much of this responsibility is shunted to the general public. This distorts the discourse,” criticizes Louisa Prause, senior expert for climate change at Robert Bosch Stiftung. After all, what we eat is always determined to some extent by political decisions, and by the food environments in which we find ourselves. This is a reference to the real-world and mental environments in which a person takes decisions about their diet, which depend on numerous factors: Which products are actually available in supermarkets or featured in advertising? Which cultural dietary habits have shaped the individual in question? Which products are less affordable because of high taxes? “Individuals have little influence over whether they have a salad bar in their canteen at work or a bakery just a few minutes’ walk away,” says Zoe Heuschkel, board member at the Ernährungsrat (food policy council) in Cologne and in the Netzwerk der Ernährungsräte (network of food policy councils). “This is where the social responsibility of political and societal actors comes into play.”  

We spoke with

Stephanie Wunder

Head of the Sustainable Diets team at the Agora Agriculture think tank and a member of the jury in our funding program “Future is served!”

Zoe Heuschkel

Board member at the Ernährungsrat (food policy council) in and around Cologne and board member in the Netzwerk der Ernährungsräte (network of food policy councils).

Dr. Louisa Prause

Senior Expert for climate change at Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Food policy in Germany? A patchwork of different approaches. 

Policymakers have numerous levers at their disposal that can be used to make dietary environments more sustainable and healthier – such as taxes on sugar or meat, which have been proven to be harmful when consumed in large amounts. Nonetheless, Germany still lacks an integrated food policy. As Stephanie Wunder explains, this area of policymaking is still in its infancy; although the issue has come up in various ministries, from health to agriculture, there has been little coordination and alignment with common goals. Even the Food and Nutrition Strategy adopted by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture in 2024 lacks concrete measures, according to Louisa Prause: “There is a lack of political will to implement good approaches.” Besides powerful lobbying groups and a tight federal budget, one explanation why implementation is so tentative might also be the system itself, as it is resistant to change: “Paths that have been followed for decades are geared towards profit maximization and are difficult to change,” says Zoe Heuschkel. 

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Successful food policy considers the big picture. 

According to experts, the mentality of thinking in silos needs to be abandoned if the food system is to become more sustainable. To make our food system more resilient to food crises and to effectively tackle conditions such as obesity, food and nutrition must be at the center of strategies that aim to achieve as many sustainability goals as possible. “Unfortunately, the economic optimization of the food system has so far been prioritized over ecological or social considerations,” says Heuschkel. “We now need to put in place systems that are more stable because they equally integrate all three factors.” Such an integrational effort was recently undertaken at EU level: since agriculture in the individual member states is, to a large extent, determined by EU subsidies, following a joint approach to sustainable food is particularly worthwhile here. The Farm to Fork Strategy and the Sustainable Food Systems Law are examples of attempts to jointly consider agriculture and food. These have not led to any concrete actions so far, and the EU Commission is currently not actively pursuing the issue any further. Germany also lacks any similar approach to date. Food and nutrition are not obligatory issues for municipal government structures and the design of food supply systems is still missing a clear mandate. At federal level, the Citizens’ Assembly on “Nutrition in Transition” was the first forum to be set up for citizens to discuss the topic. As Louisa Prause points out, however, it remains to be seen how these recommendations will be implemented. In future, the Federal Government’s Food and Nutrition Strategy should be closely interwoven with these recommendations.  


Sustainable food and nutrition in Germany? A bottom-up process. 

Nonetheless, there are many positive approaches to designing sustainable, regional and healthy food environments: Numerous initiatives, especially in rural areas and at the municipal level, are committed to bringing about lasting changes to the food system – from solidarity-based agricultural communities to food policy councils that have been established in various municipalities. They prove that solutions and alternatives do exist to redesign our food system. In addition, funding programs such as “Future is served!” help to connect initiatives and local government bodies with the aim to improving information sharing and ensuring that the topic is anchored in municipal policy. The food made publicly available in school canteens, hospitals and care homes offers one particularly good opportunity to make people’s diets more sustainable: In these settings, policy can have a direct impact on food environments and help ensure that regional food is available at fair prices. Participatory processes have great potential in this context in order to actively involve citizens in the decision-making. This is also one of the central recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on “Nutrition in Transition”. “These are the hotspots where change must happen; this is our ethical responsibility,” agrees Zoe Heuschkel.  

About the project

Future is served!

to the website of the project

With the Future is served! program, the Robert Bosch Stiftung supports municipalities in rural areas in shaping regional food systems in a participatory manner together with citizens. After all, our diet can contribute to climate protection and resilience and it influences the health of citizens. 

Municipalities can apply to take part in the funding program until 15.5.24.

to the website of the project