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 4: From private to public: institutionalizing organic food standards into policy

Lisa F. Clark

Subjects: environment, biotechnology, environmental governance and regulation


Any farmers group that gets together and verifies itself is unacceptable. Tom Harding, president,Organic Food Production Association (quoted in Burros, 1987) In response to increased production and consumption of organic foods, both Canadian and American governments embarked on formalizing organic agricultural standards into national policy in the late 1990s. Organic agriculture in both contexts came to be viewed by national governments as an economically valuable agricultural sub-sector that required public regulation and funding to expand (Haumann, 2010:183). To replace the patchwork of private certifiers, as well as various provincial and state regulations and standards, the US government passed legislation creating a national organic program in 2000, while Canada formally passed its national organic standards in 2009. Many actors welcomed the development of national organic standards as they are argued to give consumers a reliable, recognizable label by giving producers a standardized set of guidelines and regulations. Although regulating the production processes involved in organic agriculture is itself not new, the institutionalization of standards and principles into public policy in Canada and the US is a very recent development. What sets the institutionalization of rules surrounding organic food and agriculture in national public policy apart from prior forms of regulation is the ascendancy of the idea that organic agriculture should be regulated through a series of enforceable legal frameworks that, for the most part, do not include some of the substantive issues included in the process-based definition of organic, such as labor conditions or farm size.

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