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Our Future Food dialogue impacts Food Standards Agency thinking

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The Our Future Food public dialogue project was run by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) from July 2015 to February 2016 (with Sciencewise support). The independent evaluation report on the project was published in March 2016 and identifies some immediate impacts of the dialogue especially in terms of the place and role of the FSA in national policy on future food issues.

The dialogue was commissioned to inform the FSA’s policy making, and that of others, in order to support work to provide the best food future for consumers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The dialogue process included the establishment of a Steering Group with individuals from Defra, BBSRC, Wellcome Trust, the Food and Drink Federation, Sense about Science and others; a Rapid Evidence Assessment and Literature Review; an online quantitative survey involving 1,383 UK participants, and online qualitative research with a sub-set of 22 participants; workshops with public participants in four locations (London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Bristol); a total of 61 public participants were involved. Separate reports were published for the Literature Review and the public dialogue process in February 2016.

The dialogue results and report were disseminated and discussed at the FSA’s ‘Our Food Future’ Summit on 18 February 2016. The Summit attracted over 200 stakeholders from government departments, NGOs, industry and academics and was broadcast via an interactive webcast to over 6,000 other individuals. Findings were also ‘trailed’ on Facebook and Twitter prior to the Summit with more than 3,000 posts on social media and, during the morning of the event itself, #OurFoodFuture was the third highest trending topic on Twitter in the UK with the posts being shared and retweeted 29,161 times.  The full report and Literature Review were available on the FSA’s website and a copy of the Executive Summary was given to all attendees at the Summit. The Summary was relatively short and presented four key themes, some of which caught the attention of the media. The dialogue fed directly into the design and content of the Summit and formed a substantial element of what was presented and discussed at the event.

As well as the success of the Summit, the evaluation found that the project has already been influential in enabling the FSA to clearly define their desired role and remit in the debate about the future of food and to make sure the consumer’s voice is heard in that debate. The dialogue process, and the Summit, were well received and helped to raise the profile of the FSA as a proactive organisation keen to bring different organisations together to discuss the future of food.

It is too early for any other or wider impacts to be identified, although the evaluation report concludes that there is a consensus that the final report could be quite influential in helping to shape the future work of the FSA, as well as other organisations as it includes several ‘calls to action’ for consumers, government, industry and the media.

Icarus (2016) Our Food Future: A Public Dialogue. Project Evaluation – Final Report. FSA and Sciencewise, March 2016 (plus a separate set of appendices); and Our Food Future; full dialogue report and separate Executive Summary, February 2016. All available via http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/the-future-of-our-food-a-public-dialogue/