Policy packaging can make food system transformation feasible


Redesigning food production and consumption is key to limiting global warming, soil erosion and biodiversity loss. Yet, transforming the food system may involve political feasibility problems, as potentially effective policy interventions interfere with citizens’ daily lives. Here, we show that policy packaging—the systematic bundling of different policy measures—can help to mitigate the potential trade-off between political feasibility and problem-solving effectiveness. We use conjoint experiments with citizens from China, Germany and the United States to scrutinize support for different combinations of policies aimed at reducing food systems’ environmental impacts. Our results do not support the widespread claim that costly market-based or push measures per se receive less support than non-market-based or pull measures. Instead, they show that citizens are likely to support even costly policies, but this support varies by country and depends on the specific combination of policy measures, their stringency and revenue earmarking.

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Fig. 1: Effects of policy design attributes on the proportion of respondents supporting a policy package by country.
Fig. 2: Effects of tax revenue earmarking on the proportion of respondents supporting a policy proposal by country.
Fig. 3: Distribution of respondents’ share of support for policy packages that include particular policy attributes.
Fig. 4: Tax-conditional marginal means by country.

Data availability

All data and associated code for replicating the experimental results presented in Figs. 14 of the paper as well as the results presented in the Supplementary Information are publically available at the Harvard Dataverse: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/FR73RE.


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The research for this article was funded by the ERC Advanced Grant ‘Sources of Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance’ (grant number 295456) and supported by ETH Zürich. We are grateful for valuable comments by B. Anderson, G. Brückmann, F. Egli, L. F. Beiser-McGrath, R. Hess, R. Huber, D. Kolcava, V. Koubi, S. Mohrenberg, Q. Nguyen, D. Presperger, A. Rinscheid, L. Rudolph, A. Schrode and F. Quoss, as well as the interviewed experts and anonymous reviewers. The ETH ethics commission provided guidelines for the study procedures and approved the study.

Author information




L.P.F., M.W., Y.S. and T.B. developed the study concept and survey design. L.P.F. and Y.S. conducted the interviews. L.P.F. conducted the analyses and interpreted and prepared the results. The other authors supported interpretation of the results. L.P.F. wrote the paper with input from the other authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lukas Paul Fesenfeld.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Example of experimental conjoint choice and rating task.

We showed study participants four such pairs of random policy packages and asked them to decide which proposal they preferred within each pair, both in a forced-choice question and on a seven-point rating scale. The different policy design attributes were described to respondents prior to the four choice tasks.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–5, Figs. 1–3 and survey Instrument.

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Fesenfeld, L.P., Wicki, M., Sun, Y. et al. Policy packaging can make food system transformation feasible. Nat Food 1, 173–182 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0047-4

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