Symposium Issue — Safety and Sustainability in the Era of Food Systems: Reaching a More Integrated Approach
Olivier De Schutter
The productivist paradigm we have inherited from fifty years ago was shaped to respond to a very different set of problems than those we are facing today. The resulting dominant food system in rich countries succeeds in doing one big thing: it is well equipped to produce large volumes of commodities for the food-processing industry, which in turn does reasonably well at ensuring a relatively stable availability of cheap calories to the populations. But this has come with huge costs— externalities that have been borne by the collectivity rather than accounted for in the price of food.
James Ming Chen
True to the “rhetorical formula” drawn by Puritan orators from the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, this Article will deliver a jeremiad, “recalling the courage and piety of the founders, lamenting recent and present ills, and crying out for a return to the original conduct and zeal.”
Guadalupe T. Luna
This Article asks whether integrated sustainability is possible without deliberation on the causal links between the status and working conditions of hired farm laborers and the food production system. While farmworkers might not appear related to integrated sustainability, agricultural economists, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and others recognize the unique importance of farm laborers to food production. From an economic-value perspective, without farmworkers, crops remain in fields, guaranteeing economic hardship for growers, producers, and agricultural economies.
Timothy D. Lytton & Lesley K. McAllister
Private auditing is a significant component of food safety regulation. Typically, manufacturers, retail sellers, and food-service operators require their suppliers to obtain food safety certification from a private third-party auditor paid by the supplier. Auditors’ financial interest in acquiring accounts from suppliers who want the cheapest certification that they can obtain gives auditors incentive to reduce the rigor of audits. This constitutes a conflict of interest between the auditor’s private financial interest and its professional obligation to protect the public from food safety risks. Audit industry insiders and outside observers are well aware of this problem, and various institutional actors—both public and private—have developed oversight mechanisms to address it.
We analyze the nature and sources of this conflict of interest in food safety auditing, efforts to prevent it, and responses when it occurs. Our focus is on institutional design—organizational structures, administrative routines, and professional norms. Part I of the Article describes how conflicts of interest lead some auditors to be less probing in their inspection of suppliers’ operations and to skew their risk evaluations in favor of suppliers’ desire for cheap certification. Part II of the Article surveys the different oversight mechanisms currently in place or under development that aim to counteract auditors’ incentive to reduce the rigor of audits.
Short Ends of the Stick: The Plight of Growers and Consumers in Concentrated Agricultural Supply Chains
Diana L. Moss & C. Robert Taylor
Competition in U.S. agricultural markets has been shaped and reshaped over the course of decades by a number of factors. These include long-standing statutory exemptions from the U.S. antitrust laws for some forms of agricultural business organizations, changes in regulation, advances in technology, the rise of intellectual property protection, and globalization. More recent changes, however, have fundamentally altered the landscapes of domestic and global agricultural markets. This has been driven largely by horizontal and vertical consolidation, which has created tight oligopolies and by the emergence of powerful players at critical stages in increasingly complex agricultural supply chains.
[. . .] This Article attempts to lend some order to what is likely one of the most troubling phases in U.S. agricultural history—namely the squeezing of the ends of the supply chain through the exercise of market power in the upstream and midstream segments. It proceeds in six sections.Part I examines characteristics of agricultural supply chains and describes growing concentration at the input, midstream processing and food manufacturing, and downstream retail levels. Part II analyzes horizontal and vertical integration in supply chains, including efficiency motivations and strategic competitive incentives. The implications of integration for producers and consumers are examined further in Parts III and IV. Part V takes up key challenges for antitrust enforcement that result from concentrated agricultural supply chains and provides important examples from fertilizer and transgenic seed. The final Part concludes with observations and policy recommendations.
Roberta keeps four chickens in her backyard. Bob snuck onto the vacant lot next door, which the bank foreclosed upon and now owns, and planted a vegetable garden. Vien operates an occasional underground restaurant from his friends’ microbrewery after beer-making operations cease for the day. The common thread tying these actions together is that they are unauthorized; they are being undertaken in violation of existing laws and often norms.
Susan A. Schneider
There has been an effort to shift the focus of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food safety approach from reactive to preventative. The recently enacted Food Safety Modernization Act was hailed as a means to “transform the FDA from an agency that tracks down outbreaks after the fact, to an agency focused on preventing food contamination in the first place.” While this attempted proactivity is laudable in many respects, the United States’ overall approach toward food safety remains highly compartmentalized and is seemingly unable to consider safety concerns on a systemic scale.
A Continuing Plague: Faceless Transactions and the Coincident Rise of Food Adulteration and Legal Regulation of Quality
Denis W. Stearns
Beginning in the middle of November 1992, and through the end of February 1993, there were more than five hundred lab-confirmed E. coli O157:H7 infections and four related deaths, making it the largest reported outbreak in the history of the United States. But the lab confirmations did not tell the whole story; hundreds more had been made sick, the majority of them children. All were infected as a result of eating a contaminated burger at a Jack in the Box restaurant.
Elizabeth I. Winston
Seeds are chattel. As such, seeds are protectable by the same tapestry of public and private ordering as other forms of chattel. However, the distinguishing characteristic of seeds, their method of propagation, and the history of seeds—traditionally viewed as a public good rather than chattel— distort that tapestry. The model of seed distribution thus needs to be reframed in light of the often disparate interests of innovators, producers, and consumers. As with all chattel, there is no single, correct model for distributing seeds, but law and contract may be woven together to strike a balance.
[. . .] Intellectual property protection for seed is rooted in its history as a public good. Seed is a public good, a commodity, and a chattel. There is no single, correct framework for distributing seeds, but law and contract may be interwoven to strike a balance. The protections set forth in the intellectual property system and the restrictions placed by law and contract on distribution of seed are examined in Part I of this Article. Part II addresses the enforcement of these restrictions by the judicial system. Various models of seed distribution are set forth in Part III.