An article recently published in the Health Promotion International journal reports on work conducted by Flinders and Deakin University researchers that examined the food regulatory decision-making process in Australia. The national policy on the voluntary fortification of foods and drinks with vitamins and minerals developed between 2002 and 2012, was used as a case study to understand the best means for public health professionals to effectively engage with, and have an influential role in, policy development 

Written stakeholder submissions to the public consultation on voluntary food fortification policy were analysed to determine how the policy ‘problem’ was represented by interested parties. Four major stakeholder categories, including citizens, government, public health and the food industry, were identified in the data. Predictably, citizen, government and public health stakeholders represented voluntary food fortification as a problem of public health, while food industry stakeholders viewed it as a problem of commercial benefit. This reflected expected differences regarding decision-making power and control over such regulatory activity. However, at both the outset and conclusion of the policy process, the Ministerial Council responsible for the policy development, represented the problem of voluntary food fortification as one of commercial benefit 

This result suggests that in this case, a period of ‘formal’ stakeholder consultation did not alter the outcome of the policyand the voluntary food fortification policy debate was fought and won at the initial framing of the problem in the earliest stages of the policy process.

Consequently, the researchers concluded that if public health professionals leave their participation in policy processes until formal consultation stages, the opportunity to influence policy development may already be lost. 

Read the full article by Bronwyn Ashton, Cassandra Star, Mark Lawrence and John Coveney here.