Big ideas: Issues of governance in global food systems, trade and health

A world map showing commercial shipping routes (in green) and air traffic (in blue).

Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 21 June 2016


Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building (8), Fellows Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Sharon Friel


+61 (0)2 6125 3948

Highly industrial globalised supply chains are by far the most dominant food system. From a governance perspective, food systems are highly complex, operating horizontally across sectors from production (producers and manufacturers) to distribution (retailers and food services), to advertising (marketers) and consumption (consumers) and vertically across different levels of government (local, state, national, international).

From a health perspective, the suite of multilateral trade agreements initiated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and subsequently deepened through an increasing number of bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements, have brought about three important changes to food systems:

  1. opening of domestic markets towards international food trade and foreign direct investment (liberalisation)
  2. subsequent increased entry of transnational food companies and their global market (integration)
  3. global food advertising (cultural hybridization).

These changes affect population diets, and raise concerns about undernutrition, obesity and non-communicable diseases, by altering the local availability, nutritional quality, price and desirability of foods.

Lying at the base of these changes has been the capacity of multinationals to influence global regulatory standard-setting processes in ways that meet their goals of market access.

Some scholars have argued that the means of and control over the production of food has shifted from the farmers to big agri-food businesses and transnational manufacturing and retail companies such as Unilever, Nestle, Wal-Mart, Carrefour, and Tesco, removing power from local producers, consumers and in many instances policy-makers. Two questions being posed in this session are ‘what does nutritious trade and investment policy look like?’ and ‘how to make it happen?’

About the Speaker

Sharon Friel is an interdisciplinary social health researcher, with a disciplinary background in public health. She joined RegNet as Professor of Health Equity in May 2014 and became Director in July 2014. She also serves as the Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the ANU.

In 2010 she was awarded an inaugural Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to investigate the interface between health equity, social determinants (food systems) and climate change, based at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU.

Between 2005 and 2008 she worked with Sir Michael Marmot as the Head of the Scientific Secretariat (University College London) for the World Health Organisation’s landmark global Commission on Social Determinants of Health.

Before moving to Australia, she worked for many years in the Department of Health Promotion, National University of Ireland, Galway. For more details, visit her RegNet profile.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet