Sustainable agriculture in the EU and China: A comparative critical policy analysis approach

Junyu Zhang*, Matt Drury

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Agriculture is a significant contributor to global environmental problems such as greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. The EU and China are key players in this regard, and both have introduced policies for sustainable agriculture. This research takes a critical policy analysis approach to investigate the extent to which current EU and Chinese agricultural policies reproduce discourses which are commensurate with a transition to a more sustainable agriculture. Drawing on a four-phase methodology for critical policy analysis, we analyse policy documents from the EU and China, comparing them and positioning them on a heuristic scale of weak to strong sustainability. Three positions from weak to strong sustainability are distinguished, namely the techno-economic/productionist, blended, and agroecological/ruralist. Our findings suggest that agricultural policies of both the EU and China have reproduced the dominant techno-economic/productionist position, leaning towards weak sustainability, while policy discourses aligned with a fundamental transformation of agriculture to strong sustainability are marginalised. Such a shared policy orientation towards weak sustainability is rooted in policymaking processes of the EU and China, albeit manifested differently in the two political contexts. Based on our reflections of the common patterns underlying the agricultural policy discourses, we call for deeper cultural and social critique on current discourses and more participatory and reflexive policymaking processes to embrace alternative discourses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103789
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Early online date17-May-2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17-May-2024


  • China
  • Comparative study
  • Critical policy analysis
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • The EU


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