Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Public demands government intervention

By Jane Campbell

14th July 2021

Research conducted by FFCC shows that, if you provide the right messaging, 70% of citizens would support the government enacting policies to reduce the impact of food production on the environment and 62% see that it is government’s responsibility to set policies and regulations so that it is easier to eat healthy food.

This appetite for government to be bold on food issues is particularly interesting in the light of the National Food Strategy for England published on July 15.

The focus of the FFCC research is on framing the ‘case for change’ and understanding participants’ attitudes to problems/solutions to issues around food (and the level of responsibility governments have to improve health through diet). FFCC conducted 10 focus groups, with a total of 59 nationally and politically representative participants and worked with YouGov to conduct an online poll of 5,299UK adults. In the polling, participants were split into groups and saw one of the test frames – or no frame at all in the control group – and all answered the same questions.

Interestingly, FFCC’s research shows there is strong support for the role that governments could play – and this increases significantly as people understand the issues more deeply. Focus group participants discussed the role that powerful companies play in influencing how food is priced and what people buy. When questions and discussions were framed around the ways in which companies profit from unhealthy and unsustainable food systems, participant’s views shifted towards support for government intervention.

When values such as fairness and protecting future generations came into the conversation – it changed how people understood the issue of food affordability and who really pays for cheap food. Understanding of the issues also increased when people were presented with a strong narrative. Frames that described problems, but didn’t clearly contain a solution or responsibility, left participants feeling that the problems were “too big.” When they didn’t know what to do about them, the participants often reverted back to individual level solutions like better education being the key to improving healthy eating.

The implications of this research are important. The much-anticipated National Food Strategy in England is likely to be met with great interest. This research shows that the public, when presented with food policies in a different way, may have much greater enthusiasm for changing our food system and the role that government can play in this transition, than many people think.

Notes

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 5,299 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th - 16th March 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). We ran 7 experimental groups, plus a control group. The groups were randomly allocated. All groups, apart from the null control group, were shown a different paragraph of written material (a ‘frame’) ahead of the survey questions. The null control group were not shown anything before answering the survey questions.

With the polling group exposed to information about affordability of healthy food, 70% of people would support the government enacting policies to reduce the impact of food production on the environment, compared to 62% in the control group who saw no framing information. Participants were responding to the question: To what extent, if at all, would you support or oppose government taking action to reduce the impact of food production on our environment (Strongly support - Tend to support - Neither support nor oppose - Tend to oppose- Strongly oppose - Don't know)

In the control group, who saw no framing information, 50% of people polled agreed that ‘it is the government’s responsibility to set policies and regulations so it is easier for us to eat food that is better for us and the planet,’ rising to 62% when they were provided with information about the affordability of healthy food and how the food system could function differently. Participants were responding to the question: To what extent, if at all, do you agree or disagree with the following? It is the government’s responsibility to set policies and regulation so it is easier for us to eat food that is better for us and the planet (Strongly agree – Agree – Neither agree nor disagree – Disagree – Strongly disagree – Don't know).