Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Media bias may frame food system debate

Media channels placed emphasis on individual responsibility rather than systemic change in response to a nationwide food systems review, study finds.

Researchers including experts from the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems have reviewed traditional media and social platforms to understand how discussions surrounding the UK's food system are being framed for the British public.

Media coverage and social media reactions to the National Food Strategy (NFS) were examined to understand public perception of where the responsibility lies in tackling issues relating to food.

This study found that media coverage of the strategy’s findings tended to place greater responsibility for change on the consumer’s personal choice.

Less emphasis was placed on acknowledging structural challenges within the food system that require systemic change and policy intervention.

The research team recommends a shift from the approach to one which discusses interventions that reform the structural causes of poor food systems outcomes in the UK.

Nutrition review

Published in 2012, the NFS is a government-commissioned independent review that offered 14 recommendations to reform the UK’s food system in a bid to tackle issues relating to food, such as child obesity and rising levels of stunting.

Since the strategy’s launch, the findings have been widely debated within the media, with questions being raised about how and who should reform the food system.

Media portrayal

Experts found that NFS recommendations were often portrayed as issues of free choice by the media, shifting the debate away from government action. In contrast, the industry was showcased as equipped to intervene on its own accord.

The research also suggests that social media discourse of NFS recommendations often failed to include diverse voices, such as those from lower socioeconomic status, within the debate.

Experts recommend shifting the discourse to policy interventions to tackle issues such as rising obesity and environmental run-offs of food production.

This news story has been adapted from a Royal Veterinary College research news publication. The research was published in the British Food Journal, in collaboration with colleagues from the Royal Veterinary College, supported by Research England Policy Support Fund and UKRI.

With the 2024 general election looming in the UK and the roll-out of post-Brexit policies such as the Environmental Land Management Scheme and Sustainable Farming Incentive, there is a need for nuanced reporting and debate to showcase a greater diversity of stakeholder views to help better inform and shape public opinion on food systems reform.

Only then will the onus for dietary change switch from consumers to the government and the industry.

Kirsty Blair, PhD student, The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Our research speaks to existing debates on food systems transformation by stressing the need for structural solutions instead of technofixes aimed primarily at the consumers. This requires reframing ‘what we eat’ from an issue of consumer choice to a wider transformation of the broken food system.

“The study argues for the re‑politicisation of British food policy as a structural problem that contests the nature of what food is produced and how it is made accessible to consumers as essential for policymakers to view the food system transformation as part of a wider social justice process.

Dr Mehroosh Tak, Senior Lecturer in Agribusiness at the Royal Veterinary College

Related links

Research publication

Royal Veterinary College research news coverage

Kirsty Blair PhD profile