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The private governance of food: equitable exchange or bizarre bazaar?


  • Lawrence Busch



In recent years, we have witnessed three parallel and intertwined trends: First, food retail and processing firms have embraced private standards, usually with some form of third party certification employed to verify adherence to those standards. Second, firms have increasingly aligned themselves with, as opposed to fighting off, environmental, fair trade, and other NGOs. Third, firms have embraced supply chain management as a strategy for increasing profits and market share. Together, these trends are part and parcel of the neoliberal blurring of the older liberal distinction between state and civil society. In this paper I ask what the implications of these changes are from the vantage point of the three major approaches to ethics: consequentialism, virtue theory, and rights theory. What are the consequences of these changes for food safety, for suppliers, for consumers? What virtues (e.g., trust, fairness) are these changes likely to embrace and what vices may accompany them? Whose rights will be furthered or curtailed by these changes? Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence Busch, 2011. "The private governance of food: equitable exchange or bizarre bazaar?," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 28(3), pages 345-352, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:28:y:2011:i:3:p:345-352
    DOI: 10.1007/s10460-009-9210-0

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Thomas Reardon & C. Peter Timmer & Christopher B. Barrett & Julio Berdegué, 2003. "The Rise of Supermarkets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1140-1146.
    2. Liesbeth Dries & Thomas Reardon & Johan F. M. Swinnen, 2004. "The Rapid Rise of Supermarkets in Central and Eastern Europe: Implications for the Agrifood Sector and Rural Development," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 22, pages 525-556, September.
    3. Hayek, F. A., 2007. "The Road to Serfdom," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 0, number 9780226320540 edited by Caldwell, Bruce, March.
    4. Dave D. Weatherspoon & Thomas Reardon, 2003. "The Rise of Supermarkets in Africa: Implications for Agrifood Systems and the Rural Poor," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 21, pages 333-355, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hatanaka, Maki, 2014. "Standardized food governance? Reflections on the potential and limitations of chemical-free shrimp," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 138-145.
    2. Probst, Lorenz & Houedjofonon, Elysée & Ayerakwa, Hayford Mensah & Haas, Rainer, 2012. "Will they buy it? The potential for marketing organic vegetables in the food vending sector to strengthen vegetable safety: A choice experiment study in three West African cities," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 296-308.
    3. Olson, Julia & Clay, Patricia M. & Pinto da Silva, Patricia, 2014. "Putting the seafood in sustainable food systems," Marine Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 104-111.
    4. Stephen Davey & Carol Richards, 2013. "Supermarkets and private standards: unintended consequences of the audit ritual," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 30(2), pages 271-281, June.
    5. Dervillé, Marie & Allaire, Gilles, 2014. "Change of competition regime and regional innovative capacities: Evidence from dairy restructuring in France," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(P1), pages 347-360.
    6. Agni Kalfagianni, 2014. "Addressing the Global Sustainability Challenge: The Potential and Pitfalls of Private Governance from the Perspective of Human Capabilities," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 122(2), pages 307-320, June.
    7. Pavel Castka & Charles J. Corbett, 2016. "Governance of Eco-Labels: Expert Opinion and Media Coverage," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 135(2), pages 309-326, May.
    8. Carmen Bain & Tamera Dandachi, 2014. "Governing GMOs: The (Counter) Movement for Mandatory and Voluntary Non-GMO Labels," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(12), pages 1-21, December.
    9. Jason Konefal, 2015. "Governing Sustainability Transitions: Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives and Regime Change in United States Agriculture," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(1), pages 1-22, January.

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    Governance; Retailing; Certification; Standards;


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