The Changing Politics of Organic Food in North America

The Changing Politics of Organic Food in North America

Lisa F. Clark

The Changing Politics of Organic Food in North America explores the political dynamics of the remarkable transition of organic food from a ‘fringe fad’ in the 1960s to a multi-billion dollar industry in the 2000s. Taking a multidisciplinary, institutionalist approach that integrates social movement theory, public policy analysis and value chain analysis, it tells the story of how the organic movement responded to the social, economic and political changes brought on by the rise of industrial agriculture in the twentieth century.

Chapter 3: Business as usual? Conventional corporate strategies in the organic food sector

Lisa F. Clark

Subjects: environment, biotechnology, environmental governance and regulation


We no longer position ourselves as the alternative … We are mainstream. vice-president of marketing, Whole Foods Market (1987) The year span of 1999–2000 proved to be a landmark period for corporate investment in the organic food industry in Canada and the US. During this time there were 25 major acquisitions of organic firms in North America, the highest number in a 12-month period to date. This pace continued throughout the first decade of the 2000s and, despite the global economic downturn in 2008, corporate interest in the organic food sector has not waned. In 2010, there were ten announced mergers and acquisitions of organic and natural foods companies in the US. Almost every major agri-food corporation operating in Canada and the US now holds a financial stake in the organic food industry through mergers, acquisitions, partial equity or brand introduction (see Appendix 1). This chapter traces how corporate strategies more often associated with the practices of agribusiness were introduced and replicated in the organic food sectors in Canada and the US. It shows that a key element to the introduction of these behaviors was the successful reorganization of production processes in the organic sector that hinged on the promotion and acceptance of the product-based definition of organic. It begins by discussing the economic reorganization that happened in the conventional agri-food sector in the 1980s to explain the emergence of these strategies intended to capture market share.

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