The Changing Politics of Organic Food in North America
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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.
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Chapter 7: New actors, new directions: the contemporary organic movement as an advocacy network

Lisa F. Clark


To some degree, two constituencies have always existed in the organic movement. One, consisting mainly of organic producers, has put far more emphasis on the substantive socio-economic and ecological goals associated with the process-based definition of organic, while the other, primarily including consumer movements, focuses on the environmental and health benefits of food produced without synthetic inputs. Yet as the 1980s progressed and the market for organic products expanded, another constituency emerged that deviated from the objectives of independence and self-sufficiency. The establishment of professional organizations bridged the gap between the radicalism of the counterculture of the 1960s from which the organic movement emerged and the new political and economic realities of the post-industrial, consumer culture of the 1980s. The corporate constituency promoting the expansion of organic agriculture while encouraging the institutionalization of organic production processes into the mainstream agri-food system reshaped the organic movement. This chapter traces the evolution of the organic movement from the mid-1980s until the 2000s. The preoccupation of process-based advocates with banning off-farm inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides made vulnerable the linkage between practice and the socio-economic priniciples associated with the process-based definition. This facilitated a shift in focus from emphasizing the importance of economic and social processes to the value of the end material product, to emphasizing the perceived consumer benefits associated with eating organic foods.

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