Power Dynamics in 21st-Century Food Systems

Nutrients. 2019 Oct 22;11(10):2544. doi: 10.3390/nu11102544.


Food systems are central to our very planetary existence, yet they are not fit for purpose in the 21st century because of the enormous damage they do to the environment and human health. Transforming food systems to optimize human health, ecological health, social equity and economic prosperity will require major changes in power dynamics between players to shift the status quo. The purpose of this paper is to assess these power dynamics and the opportunities for the Great Intergenerational Food Transformation (GIFT)-how this current generation in power can transform food systems within one generation for future generations. The current 'policy inertia' preventing food policy action is due to the strong opposition from the commercial food sector, the reluctance of governments to regulate and tax, and the lack of demand for policy action from civil society. The translation of the market power of large food industries into self-serving political power is the dominant barrier to action. The most promising systemic lever for holding the major power players (governments and food industries) to account for the GIFT is increasing the power of civil society (including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), researchers, professional societies and the public) to demand changes in the political economy of food.

Keywords: accountability; civil society; food industry; food systems; government policies; power dynamics.

MeSH terms

  • Commerce / organization & administration*
  • Food Industry / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Models, Organizational
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Social Responsibility