Organic limited: The corporate rise and spectacular change in the Canadian and American organic food sectors

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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The twentieth century saw the rise of industrial food production in North America. It is widely held that industrialized agriculture produces negative social and ecological effects. In response to the exploitive practices of industrialized agriculture, a number of counter-movements emerged in the mid-twentieth century, including the organic farming movement. The traditional principles and practices of organic agriculture presented an alternative form of food production, distribution and consumption that accounted for the social and ecological costs associated with feeding mass populations. Over the last twenty years however, the organic food sector has seen phenomenal growth and changes, that challenge organic’s status as a counter-movement. Food safety issues have emerged regarding the industrialized, globalized food system that have prompted concerned consumers to seek alternatives, contributing to organic food’s rapid market expansion. As a result of its remarkable market growth, new actors have entered the organic food sector and organic food is now part of policies and regulatory frameworks of many OECD countries. Changes in both the structure of the organic food sector and the actors involved in it have challenged organic’s standing as a counter-movement to the industrialized food system, and what it means for a food to be defined as ‘organic’. This thesis examines the changing political economy of the organic food sector in Canada and the US over the past twenty years. It looks at the corporatization of the organic food sector and the insertion of organic into various levels of governance, including national policy-making agendas and global trade agreements. As a result of these changes it is argued that organic has fundamentally moved away from its original status as a challenge to the status quo, and is now part of the global food regime that it once so adamantly opposed and sought to replace. By examining the pressures for changing the traditional social and ecological principles of the organic movement, it is shown that it has effectively shifted from a social movement to an advocacy network.
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