The speed at which the pandemic has impacted countries and communities has driven unprecedented, swift policy action and implementation across sectors – including food and nutrition. FoodMinds’ global food and nutrition affairs team put our heads together to anticipate how policy, regulation and legislation will be impacted by COVID-19 – today and into the future. Here are three top insights that anyone tracking food policy should watch.
INSIGHT: COVID-19 underscores the need to address the triple burden of malnutrition through systems change food policies.
Across the globe, the pandemic is exacerbating challenges related to under- and over-nutrition, including food insecurity, hunger, and subpar diet quality (i.e., decreasing consumption of fruits and vegetables). And, public health authorities are clear that obesity and malnutrition appears to worsen COVID-19 outcomes, further taxing health care systems and driving negative health and economic consequences.
ANTICIPATED POLICY RESPONSE: Calls for policy, regulatory and legislative solutions to improve the obesogenic environment will surely continue and potentially grow stronger, including restrictions on ultra-processed foods, front-of-pack and warning labels, taxation and pricing incentives, marketing and advertising to children restrictions, and more.
- Philippines: The Philippines is considering implementing higher sugar taxes as well as new taxes on “junk food” high in sodium and trans fat to offset the costs incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak this year.
- United Kingdom: After being hospitalized with COVID-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his advisers that he “changed his mind” on nutrition policies and plans to lead a “war on fat” via a “much more interventionist” approach.
- Latin America & the Caribbean: In a recent report, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the United Nations’ (UN) regional office and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposed new urgent policy measures to address increased hunger due to COVID-19, including an “anti-hunger grant” to support vulnerable people, farmers and food producers.
INSIGHT: Impeded progress towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other global milestones will lead authorities to double down on sweeping nutrition recommendations.
COVID-19 has further set the world back in achieving the SDGs, right at a time when more resources need to be devoted to improving health, reducing inequality and spurring economic growth.
ANTICIPATED POLICY RESPONSE: Vocal political, public health and advocacy groups will become even louder in pushing for countries to make health, nutrition and food systems central to national agendas and strategies.
- European Union: In May, the European Commission proposed a new Farm to Fork Strategy encouraging a comprehensive approach to policy change to establish a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system.
- United States: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan to keep nutrition front-and-center throughout the pandemic, with FDA stating its intention to advance its Nutrition Innovation Strategy.
INSIGHT: Global and domestic policies have been rapidly implemented to address food access, food availability and food waste, laying the groundwork for further policy experimentation.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected vulnerable populations and worsened existing racial, gender, health and economic disparities. Governments in both developed and developing countries have taken immediate action to improve food access and availability for people who need it. The urgency required by the pandemic has set up a kind of “pilot testing” period for new and innovative policy solutions and interventions, where we’re learning in real time.
ANTICIPATED POLICY RESPONSE: New and revised nutrition assistance programs will be evaluated and assessed over time, and some may be woven into the fabric of existing safety-net programs for the future. This means the door is open for innovators and innovative ideas – stakeholders should consider proposing new or revised programs and thinking, because the opportunity to inform and impact longer-term outcomes might be greater now than it was in the past.
- United States: The USDA is attempting to purchase and redirect crop surpluses to food banks, community organizations and non-profits through the Farmers to Families Food Box.
- United States: There are significant increases in participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Online Purchasing Pilot program, which now allows benefits to be used online, in addition to in-person. Before the pandemic, this initiative was slow-moving – today approximately 37 states have been approved for the expansion.
- Latin America & the Caribbean: Various programs are being implemented at national and local levels, including emergency food assistance initiatives and food subsidies, as well as community kitchens to help feed the most vulnerable and essential workers.
- Developing countries: Rapid development of e-commerce infrastructure for meal and grocery delivery in countries where use was previously limited or non-existent is underway. Policy interventions may be accelerated to facilitate use of and access to technology required as part of life in this “new normal.”
The Bottom Line: Prepare for the long term – the focus on food and nutrition policy is not going away. While resources may be redirected in the short term to focus on hunger and food insecurity, we fully expect the long-term emphasis on using policy to improve the food and public health environments will continue, with potential for rapid acceleration. Now is the time to reevaluate food and nutrition policy positions and engagement strategies to prepare for what’s ahead.
FoodMinds’ food and nutrition affairs team uses our deep expertise to help clients navigate the evolving food landscape and prepare for the future. Reach out to [email protected] to start the conversation.