Half empty shelves in supermarket. Bottom right corner of picture is text: 'Image credit: Christina Pollard.'

Fighting for food regulation reform and social mobilisation for wicked problems: Food Futures Conference 2022

Fighting for food regulation reform and social mobilisation for wicked problems: Food Futures Conference 2022


Featuring international food and nutrition experts, and prominent Australian public figures, the final day of the Food Futures Conference 2022 was action-packed.

Panel Session – The future of food regulation in Australia and New Zealand

Christel Leemhuis of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Emeritus Professor Murray Skeaff, and Adjunct Professor Sophie Dwyer PSM spoke at this session.

During the lively plenary, speakers discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the current food regulation system, the functions of FSANZ, and the FSANZ Act review.

Emeritus Prof Murray Skeaff emphasised the importance of clarifying what is meant by ‘public health’ in food regulation, and expressed frustration about how antiquated systems are still being used.

Christel Leemhuis from FSANZ highlighted the value of engaging with FSANZ, including through the FSANZ Act review process.

Dr Alexandra Jones responded by noting that there can be significant differences in resources available for this engagement by the public health workforce, compared to the commercial food and agriculture industry.

Adjunct Professor Sophie Dwyer had the final word, noting that the public health workforce can assist by continuing to advocate broadly, and also advise of specific ideas and needs from the public health perspective.

This session was facilitated by Dr Alexandra Jones and Dr Katherine Cullerton, members of the PHAA Food and Nutrition Special Interest Group committee.


Plenary Session Four: Food Equity

Professor Louise Signal of the University of Otago spoke to the topic, ‘Tackling the wicked problem of food insecurity using a systems approach’, noting the significant element of inequity present in food insecurity. Prof Signal’s research team investigated how to strengthen “food security for Māori, Pacific & low-income households”.

Prof Signal stressed that simply educating people on what foods are healthy is not a valuable solution, particularly if people are not able to afford these healthy foods in the first place.

Prof Signal highlighted colleague Dr Christina McKerchar’s research into Māori food security, and how traditional kai revitalisation could have significant potential to strengthen food security.

Prof Signal concluded her presentation by reiterating that, “Just as there is no one cause to wicked problems like food insecurity, likewise there is no one solution.”


Assistant Professor Irem Orgut of the University of Alabama presented on ‘Achieving Equity, Effectiveness and Efficiency in Food Bank Operations: Modelling Approaches and Policymaking Implications’.

Assistant Prof Orgut noted the large amount of food waste occurring in the U.S., and worsening food insecurity following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Food banks and the ‘triple E triangle’ of efficiency, effectiveness, and equity was introduced. And it was acknowledged that it’s unfeasible to satisfy the high demand for the services food banks supply, and therefore the focus is instead on fair distribution to the various areas.

Assistant Prof Orgut presented on how capacity limitations at different points of the food bank system can lead to inequity, even when using the ‘triple E triangle system’, and noted how Prof Orgut’s research team is developing a food distribution model to attempt to solve this issue.

Assistant Prof Orgut concluded by stating the myriad factors for consideration when allocating food, including capacities, food rescue, uncertainty, and more.


Associate Professor Jean Adams of the University of Cambridge presented on ‘Changing the environment to support equity in healthier eating: opportunities and challenges.

Assoc Prof Adams spoke on the difficulties in gaining quality evidence on environmental-level changes, due to complex interactions that occur at this level.

Assoc Prof Adams noted how small randomised controlled trials (RCTs) can have very different results to larger rollouts due to these interactions, and that post-rollout evaluations are critical. She suggested that observational studies may therefore be useful for driving policy development, especially where RCTs are not ethical or practical.

This plenary session was facilitated by Associate Professor Kathryn Backholer, Dr Christina Zorbas and Courtney Thompson.


Closing Plenary: Social mobilisation for planetary and public good

The closing plenary featured prominent public figures including former Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Australia’s famous landscape architect and Gardening Australia TV host, Costa Georgiadis, and Food Connect’s CEO, Robert Pekin.

Scott Ludlam defined ‘State Capture’, and how it influences our democracy, and discussed a recent report on which he collaborated with the Australian Democracy Network. He noted the various ways in which state capture occurs, mainly with money as the foundation:

  • Political donations
  • Expensive memberships to forums
  • Lobbying by commercial interests

Costa Georgiadis spoke of the power of growing your own food, and the panic incited by food and other product shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Costa outlined how to translate research into entertaining messages and activities that could build awareness and enthusiasm for the planetary good. Examples included:

  • Repair cafés
  • Gifting short courses on planetary good-related topics to friends and/or colleagues
  • Collaboration between researchers and organisations like the Australian Citizen Science Association

Robert Pekin first spoke on how food relates to all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. He noted the strong association between the fossil fuel, and food and agriculture industries. Robert then discussed the Food Connect Shed concept, and its structure and function.

To conclude the Food Futures 2022 conference, speakers were asked by Margaret Miller to make one point on how to socially mobilise for healthy, sustainable food systems:

Scott Ludlam implored all attendees to continue fighting for change, and avoid giving up, even if it feels like your work is being ignored.

Robert Pekin signposted Anchor Institutions in the United States of America as an example of achieving great outcomes.

Costa Georgiadis emphasised the need for creating and sharing research through engaging and entertaining ideas and messages.


This session was facilitated by Dr Katherine Cullerton and Margaret Miller.

Recordings of the plenary sessions are available for registered attendees on the Food Futures Conference 2022 portal.

Read the two earlier Food Futures recaps:


Image Credit: Assoc Prof Christina Pollard

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