Vouchers for sustainable food supply

Authors : Emilie Fauchier-Magnan, Dr. Bertrand Fenoll, members of IGAS

This report analyzes the methods for implementing a new instrument, the sustainable food voucher, a scheme proposed by the French Citizens’ Convention for Climate in December 2020 to help tackle food insecurity and to support the transition to a sustainable food system. Although it deals with them indirectly, this report does not deal with other measures such as food aid or tools to promote the agroecological transition.
Food is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions from French households and is a key lever for achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement. A sustainable food system requires a change in diets (in particular an increase in the proportion of plant products vs. animal products) and a change in agricultural production methods. It also requires us to tackle waste throughout the food chain and to respect food seasonality. It also constitutes a public health issue, as the burden of disease attributable to unhealthy diets is substantial : 17% of the adult population is obese ; in 2017, 4 million people suffered from cardiovascular disease and 3.2 million from diabetes.
It is essential that there is support in place for these changes so they are reasonable and manageable for everyone. The population as a whole consumes too few foods that are environmentally responsible and nutritionally beneficial : only 42% of adults and 23% of children eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day ; consumption of pulses has seen a 75% decrease in 20 years to reach a very low level in France, even though it is a preferred way to rebalance the intake of plant and animal proteins. For households that have difficulty accessing food, this difference from the nutritional guidelines is even greater : they consume half as much fruit and vegetables as others, and this has been the case for 40 years. In order to characterize what is referred to as food insecurity in France, the mission based its work on food insecurity indicators, which have been scientifically developed at the international level.
It is estimated that between 7 and 8 million people are food insecure, meaning that they do not have access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their nutritional needs and food preferences to enable them to lead an active and healthy life. The scope of food insecurity and food aid do not overlap. Although the number of food aid users is currently poorly documented, there is a significant gap between the needs (food insecurity) and the responses provided by food aid, which is an emergency resource, not a response designed to meet the needs of 7 to 8 million people. The work of the French National Coordination Committee for the Fight against Food Insecurity (Cocolupa) should allow us to better characterize these situations and the profiles of the people in them. The mission was asked to assess the sustainable food voucher – a targeted instrument to help tackle food insecurity and to improve access to sustainable, quality food. All of the objectives cannot be achieved with a single instrument. By its very nature, a targeted voucher responds to demand for certain groups and certain products and therefore directly acts on demand. It has an indirect effect on supply (production methods, structuring of sectors, distribution channels) through the additional demand created. While it allows the amount of aid to be protected from other arbitrages in favor of fixed or pre-allocated expenditures, the targeted format has major limitations that the adjustment of different parameters can mitigate, but not eliminate : it restricts the choice of products, which affects the acceptability of the aid, effective control capacities are limited and substitution effects reduce the appeal of the allocation. Furthermore, we cannot presume the effectiveness and efficiency of targeted aid in comparison with other available intervention forms. Finally, the duplication of “vouchers” complicates the socio-fiscal system and weakens the management of social aid, contrary to the efforts to make things more simple under active universal income (RUA).
In view of these characteristics, the mission sought to design a simple, clear, efficient and legally feasible scheme that would enable food insecure people to have a healthier and more sustainable diet. The mission deemed it necessary to target the 7 to 8 million food insecure people in order to improve their diet for the benefit of their health and the environment. A less targeted approach would undermine the dual objective of the instrument and run the risk of achieving neither. There is no method to fully identify these individuals and send them a “voucher”. Failing that, in support of the need to make aid work for families, the coherence of social policies and the enhanced ability to approach poverty in terms of living conditions, the French National Family Allowance Fund (CNAF) and the French National Agricultural Social Mutual Fund (MSA) should identify beneficiaries by linking them to existing social benefits, by using a target base made up of beneficiaries of the active solidarity income (RSA), the specific solidarity allowance (ASS), the minimum old age pension and recipients of personalized housing benefits (APL) under 25 years of age (basic scenario, i.e. 3 million households and 6.15 million people covered), to which we could add APL recipients with at least one dependent child (extended scenario, i.e. 4 million households and 9.7 million people covered). The products eligible for the sustainable food voucher should be fresh fruits and vegetables and unprocessed pulses. These are “win-win” products, that if consumed more often would both improve health and reduce the environmental impact of food, by helping to increase the proportion of plant-based products compared to animal-based products, which is a key lever for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Local, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables and pulses with official quality and origin identification labels (SIQO) would be eligible products but adhering to these production methods would not be a necessary condition, at least in the short term. The voucher, totaling €20 to €30 per person per month (to avoid correspondingly high administration costs and limit substitution effects) to align with the recommendations of the French National Nutrition and Health Program (PNNS) for fruit and vegetables, would be usable in all food stores, including hypermarkets and supermarkets (GMS), in order to guarantee the legal robustness of the system and to ensure good coverage of the target population. The aid system would use a payment card that would be accepted by all food stores with an electronic payment terminal, to avoid the regular and costly mailing of hundreds of millions of paper vouchers, but also to allow the payment of small amounts and prevent the risk of stigmatizing beneficiaries. When making purchases, it will be necessary to distinguish between eligible products and others, in order to make two separate payments (one with the “sustainable food voucher” card and the other with any other payment method). This sorting between products could be automatic in shops where ad hoc investments have been made in the checkout system and would be manual everywhere else. The development of an electronic application linked to the card, which would not be required to use the card, could facilitate the support of beneficiaries.
The administration of the voucher could be entrusted to a public institution, such as the French National Agency for Holiday Vouchers (ANCV) or the French National Agency For Services and Payments (ASP), although neither option is perfect. The first option (ANCV) would enable less outsourcing of the administration of the scheme, but would require a major change in the agency’s missions and governance ; the second option (ASP) would require greater recourse to private service providers and the appointment of a dedicated management committee. The voucher administration would involve significant administration costs (from 3 to 8% depending on the amount of the voucher and the number of beneficiaries) on top of management, promotion and monitoring costs. It would raise policy issues regarding the administration of large-scale public aid by a private player, particularly in view of the huge volume of individual data on vulnerable groups that would have to be shared with it. In view of the volumes dealt with and the likely continuation of the scheme, it could be worth exploring the creation of an ad hoc operator to manage and administrate the instrument as an alternative. The instrument sits at the crossroads of several public policies and would require management capacities that do not currently exist in any public body. Its management could be entrusted, particularly if the administration of payments were to be handled by the ASP, to the Interministerial Delegation for the Prevention of and Fight against Poverty (DIPLP) under the Ministry of Health and Solidarity or to a new interministerial delegation within the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, on the condition that the chosen body is provided with dedicated human and financial resources. If set up as described above, the sustainable food voucher would represent an annual cost of between €1.5 billion and €3.5 billion for program expenditure, on top of which there would be administration costs, ranging from €75 million to €115 million, depending on the individual amount and the number of beneficiaries, as well as the costs of management, promotion and monitoring. In view of the reservations expressed, a territorial pilot phase at departmental level would, in any case, be essential to ensure the effectiveness of the instrument, to assess its full costs and to verify the operators’ ability. This pilot phase would last three years and would require ad hoc governance, supported by a scientific advisory committee in charge of its evaluation. In particular, it would make it possible to assess the impact of the instrument on changes in beneficiaries’ eating habits by examining changes in their spending on fresh fruit and vegetables and unprocessed pulses, via the use of the allocated funds. Launching the pilot would require the adoption of new legislations and regulations as well as the organization of the subcontracting chain, which could take 12 to 18 months. The mission highlights that the instrument, despite its cost – from €1.5 billion to €3.5 billion as well as 3 to 8% of administration costs – would not be able to singlehandedly address issues as challenging and far-reaching as food insecurity and the sustainability of food systems. The mission suggests boosting the transformative effect that the voucher hopes to achieve, with supporting territorial measures, by continuing the “greening” of food policies, by promoting healthier and more sustainable supplies for food aid, and by acting directly on supply. While the mission members agree on the advantages and disadvantages of the instrument in question, they do not agree on the conclusions to be drawn. The CGAAER member of the mission believes that the instrument is capable of responding to issues relating to food insecurity that have not been addressed to date and to the sustainability of food systems ; she recommends the implementation of the pilot phase described. For the IGF and IGAS mission members, the instrument is not able to respond to issues that are nonetheless of vital importance ; consequently, they do not recommend its deployment.


ANCV Agence nationale du chèque vacances French National Agency for Holiday Vouchers
APL Aide personnalisée au logement Personalized housing benefits)
ASP Agence de services et de paiement French National Agency For Services and Payment
ASS Allocation de solidarité spécifique Specific solidarity allowance
CGAAER Conseil général de l’griculture, de l’alimentation et des espaces ruraux French High Council for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas
CNAF Caisse nationale des allocations familiales French National Family Allowance Fund
COCOLUPA Comité national de coordination de la lutte contre la précarité alimentaire French National Coordination Committee for the Fight against Food Insecurity
DILP Délégation interministérielle à la prévention et à la lutte contre la pauvreté Interministerial Delegation for the Prevention of and Fight against Poverty
GMS Grandes et moyennes surfaces Hypermarkets and supermarkets
IGAS Inspection générale des affaires sociales General Inspectorate for Social Affairs
IGF Inspection générale des finances General Inspectorate for Finance
MSA Mutualité sociale agricole French National Agricultural Social Mutual Fund
PNNS Programme national nutrition santé French National Nutrition and Health Program
RSA Revenu de solidarité active Active solidarity income
RUA Revenu universel d’activité Active universal income
SIQO Signe d’identification de qualité et d’origine Quality and origin identification labels
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