Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
to have gained a foothold in public discourse.6 People in the food-labeling industry
disagree vehemently about the best approach; one result has been the fragmentation
and multiplication of standards as “depth” and “breadth” advocates go their separate
ways. A microcosm of this debate can be seen in the 2011 split between Fair Trade USA
and Fairtrade International over the former's decision to include plantation coffee in
Fair-Trade certification standards rather than only small-holder coffee cooperatives, a
move intended to make Fair-Trade coffee available to larger retailers and to reach more
farmers (Fairtrade International [FLO] and Fair Trade USA 2011). The network of food
labeling organizations and activists thus represent loose coalitions of actors who share
basic goals but hold different views on how best to achieve them. Moreover, these ideo-
logues are allied—often uncomfortably—with actors driven by profit motives rather
than social or environmental goals. The result is a complex, multifold family of over-
lapping certification systems, characterized by both common ground and internal
Considerable debate exists concerning the question:  Do these food certification
schemes do what they promise to do? This question hinges on three critical issues, which
will be considered in depth. First, is there enough consumer demand for ethically
labeled products to fuel a market large enough to make a measurable impact? Second,
assuming sufficient demand, do these ethical standards actually create intended posi-
tive outcomes for the producer, the consumer, or the farm—whether in the form of
better labor conditions, increased protection of the environment, or the reduction of
risks to human health? Third, do the certification agents credibly act as safeguards to
the system?
This chapter will examine each of these questions in turn. Section II outlines the
debates about the nature of consumer demand for ethically labeled food. Section III
investigates the effects of labeling schemes for producers and the production process.
Section IV interrogates the efficacy of certification agents (or “watchdogs”). Section V
turns to implications of voluntary, market-based regulation schemes for state-mandated
labor and environmental standards. Section VI concludes. This analysis suggests there
is reason for cautious optimism that ethical labeling initiatives for food live up to their
promises, albeit inconsistently and on a relatively small scale. Critically, however, the
scope of their impact is constrained by limited consumer demand, label proliferation
and fatigue, and structural barriers to transparency and accountability.
The Consumer
The ethical consumer represents the vital engine that drives demand for certified and
labeled food. Without a critical mass of buyers willing to spend money on products that
support social and environmental causes, the system falls apart.
Search WWH ::

Custom Search