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 6: The development and transformation of the organic social movement

Lisa F. Clark

Subjects: environment, biotechnology, environmental governance and regulation


Today organic food is carried in conventional grocery stores and revered in mainstream lifestyle publications as a healthier and more environmentally conscious choice compared to non-organic fare. The origins of organic agriculture in Canada and the US, however, are anything but conventional or mainstream. Beginning in the 1960s, a social movement linked with agricultural practices emerged that began to take on broader social and political goals, many of which came to constitute an organized effort to link the process-based definition of organic with organic agricultural practices. But as the ‘organic movement’ evolved in response to the popularity of organic food, the movement began to attract a more diverse group of actors with a wide range of interests and levels of commitment to the principles included in the process-based definition. Many of the newer actors to join the movement in the 1980s wanted to capitalize on the market growth organic food was enjoying while engaging with national and sub-national governments to regulate and label organic production processes – two actions the earlier organic movement largely rejected. Some observers viewed the organic movement as a critique of ‘productivist agribusiness … [that] proposed a new vision of society-nature as a whole’ (Vos, 2000:251).

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