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Voluntary standards, certification, and accreditation in the global organic agriculture field: a tripartite model of techno-politics



This article analyzes the institutionalization of the global organic agriculture field and sheds new light on the conventionalization debate. The institutions that shape the field form a tripartite standards regime of governance (TSR) that links standard-setting, certification, and accreditation activities, in a layering of markets for services that are additional to (and inseparable from) the market for certified organic products. At each of the three poles of the TSR, i.e., for standard-setting, certification, and accreditation, we describe how the corresponding markets were constructed over time and the role of the different actors in their evolution. We analyze the politics at stake among the actors at each pole, their competing or cooperative interests and visions, and the tensions between them in the promotion of markets. Through the lens of the TSR heuristic, we show that the institutionalization of the organic field beginning in the 1990s and its de facto inclusion in the broader sustainability field beginning in the 2000s contribute to a progressive distancing between the organic movement and its initial political project of alterity, to which public and private actors both contribute actively. As a set of interlinked market institutions, the TSR orients and narrows the scope of debate, which becomes restricted to “market-compatible” dimensions and objects. We conclude that the TSR is a promising heuristic for analyzing contemporary global regulation.
Voluntary standards, certification, and accreditation in the global organic agriculture field:
a tripartite model of techno-politics
Eve Fouilleux • Allison Loconto
Forthcoming in Agriculture and Human Values. Accepted: 22 December 2015
Abstract: This article analyzes the institutionalization of the global organic agriculture field and
sheds new light on the conventionalization debate. The institutions that shape the field form a
tripartite standards regime of governance (TSR) that links standard-setting, certification, and
accreditation activities, in a layering of markets for services that are additional to (and
inseparable from) the market for certified organic products. At each of the three poles of the TSR,
i.e., for standard-setting, certification, and accreditation, we describe how the corresponding
markets were constructed over time and the role of the different actors in their evolution. We
analyze the politics at stake among the actors at each pole, their competing or cooperative
interests and visions, and the tensions between them in the promotion of markets. Through the
lens of the TSR heuristic, we show that the institutionalization of the organic field beginning in
the 1990s and its de facto inclusion in the broader sustainability field beginning in the 2000s
contribute to a progressive distancing between the organic movement and its initial political
project of alterity, to which public and private actors both contribute actively. As a set of
interlinked market institutions, the TSR orients and narrows the scope of debate, which becomes
restricted to “market-compatible” dimensions and objects. We conclude that the TSR is a
promising heuristic for analyzing contemporary global regulation.
Keywords: Tripartite Standard Regime · Standards · Organic · Conventionalization ·
Certification · Accreditation · Regulation
AB Accreditation Body
CB Certification Body
EU European Union
FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
IAF International Accreditation Forum
IFOAM International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements
IOAS International Organic Accreditation Service
ISEAL International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance
ISO International Organization for Standardization
PGS Participatory Guarantee System
SDO Standard Development Organization
TSR Tripartite Standard Regime
UNCTAD United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
Contact information
Eve Fouilleux, (corresponding author)
CIRAD-MOISA and CEPEL, University of Montpellier, TA C 99/15, 73 rue Jean-François
Breton, 34398, Montpellier Cedex 5, France
Allison Loconto,
INRA-LISIS, University of Paris-Est, F 77454 Marne-La-Vallée, France
Author Biographies
Eve Fouilleux, PhD, is Research Director at the National Center for Scientific Research and the
University of Montpellier (CEPEL) and an associated researcher at the French agricultural
research and international cooperation organization (CIRAD-MOISA). She holds an agricultural
engineering degree from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Rennes and a PhD in
political science from the University of Grenoble (Institut d’Etudes Politiques). She works on
food and agriculture policies and policy-making, with a special focus on environmental and
sustainability issues. She has been working on the EU agricultural policy, developing countries’
agriculture policies, global food security institutions, and private regulation for food and
Allison Loconto, PhD, is a Researcher at the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Science, Innovation
and Society (LISIS) of the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and the Institute
for Research, Innovation, and Society (IFRIS); and she is a Visiting Expert at the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). She holds a PhD in Sociology from
Michigan State University and a MA in International Affairs and Development from the
American University. Her research interests include governance by standards, innovations in
certification systems, responsible innovation, and the governance of transitions toward
sustainable agriculture.
The empirical work presented in this paper has benefited from a research grant by the French
National Research Agency (ANR-11-CEPL-0009) and from funding from the Institute for
Research, Innovation and Society (IFRIS). The authors thank the three anonymous reviewers for
their advice on an earlier version of this paper.
In Western European countries, organic farming initially diffused as a social movement that was
bound to a particular kind of ecological morality (Balfour 1977). The intellectual roots of the
movement can be traced back to the 1930s, when a number of renowned thinkers, who
“invented” and fine-tuned specific agronomic techniques like compost making, low tillage,
intercropping, and biodynamic preparations (Besson 2011). These specific types of knowledge
and practices have been increasingly diffused since then as they were embedded in social
movements as a socio-technical alternative to the dominant industrialized and “productivist”
model of agriculture with its focus on high levels of synthetic inputs and industrial technologies
(Lockeretz 2007). This had particular momentum in the 1960s70s as an alternative way of
living and farming (Freyer and Bingen 2014) and as a socio-political alternative to capitalism
(Leroux 2011): “at the time, organic farming was anti-establishment, if not absolutely
revolutionary” (Geier 2007, p. 177 ). Beginning in the eighties, the field has steadily developed,
structured and institutionalized, and its face has changed tremendously.
Although still marginal in terms of cultivated surface (0.9% of the total agricultural land
is certified organic at the world scale, 0,7% in North America and 5.6% in the EU), organic’s
consumer base is growing and additional farmers have converted. Organic products are
increasingly processed in industrial plants and commercialized in supermarkets. Long-distance
supply chains have been organized to trade tropical organic products. International sales of
organic food and drink approached 64 billion dollars in 2012. The largest markets are the United
States (26.9 million dollars, 44% of the global market), Germany, and France. The European
Union controls 41% of the global market and maintains the highest per capita consumption
(Willer and Lernoud 2015, p. 23). In the late 1990s, in response to these trends, a debate arose
worldwide about the “conventionalization” of organic (Darnhofer et al. 2010), i.e., about the
threat of organic becoming no more than a slightly modified version of conventional agriculture.
The literature that describes and explains conventionalization generally mentions agronomic
aspects like input substitution (“organic inputs for synthetic ones) (Rosset and Altieri 1997),
issues of structures, capital repartition and resource substitution (capital for land and labor)
(Guthman 2004), market mainstreaming (Jaffee and Howard 2009) or the inability of standards to
capture values (De Wit and Verhoog 2007; Darnhofer et al. 2010). The authors generally focus
on organic products as they are created from production, food processing or marketing activities.
We shed new light on this debate by analyzing the way the field is institutionalized and
regulated through public and private standards (i.e., lists of authorized or/and prohibited practices
and inputs for farming and processing being defined as “organic”). In 2012, a total of 110
countries were implementing or developing an organic public regulation and there were at least
121 private existing organic standards (UNCTAD et al. 2012, p. 62). Notwithstanding their
public or private nature, and with very few exceptions, the contemporary organic standards
worldwide rely on the same type of conformity assessment systems: third-party certification. In
order to create consumer trust and confidence, the conformity of the producer’s practices to the
organic standard is controlled by an independent body paid for by the farmer. This body must be
accredited by an external authority to ensure their audit competence (Dabbert et al. 2014). This
layering of standards, certifications, and accreditations into a cohesive system of rule creation,
implementation, and enforcement refers to what is called the tripartite standards regime (TSR) of
governance (Loconto and Busch 2010; Busch 2011; Loconto et al. 2012). The concerned rule is a
market rule and thus the construction of a TSR is simultaneously the construction of a market for
organic products and for organic TSR services, i.e., all types of activities related to standard-
setting, certification, and accreditation.
Drawing upon theories of institutions, techno-economic networks, and organizational
fields, this article explores and analyzes the contemporary politics at stake within the global
organic field. Specifically, we ask: how is the organic field being institutionalized through a TSR
and what are the tangible political effects of this? We demonstrate that the TSR serves as an
institutional frame that directly orients and shapes the debates around organics, which are
consequently characterized by a displacement of politics from a debate regarding territorially
embedded social, environmental, and ethical principles to a debate over standardizable and
auditable topics, respectively referring to fundamentally differentif not antagonisticsets of
values. We also show that, paradoxically, the de facto inclusion of the organic TSR in a broader
sustainability TSR tends to further dilute the initial organic political/ethical project. Theoretically,
we advance the TSR as a conceptual and analytical framework, which enables us to understand
how regulation and market building mechanisms are interdependent and how public and private
actors are jointly entangled in such processes.
This work is based on empirical data collected between 2011 and 2015. We conducted 16
semi-structured interviews with actors in the organic field (e.g., officials of IFOAM and member
organizations, IOAS, ASI, SAAS, ISEAL, FAO, UNFSS); we were participant observers in 25
international conferences, both related to organic standards (e.g., GOMA conference, SOAAN
workshops, IFOAM meetings, BioFach Fairs, Regional Organic Conferences) and to
sustainability standards in general (e.g., ISEAL general assemblies, standard-setting committee
meetings), and in different specialized email lists. Finally, a range of publicly available standards
(e.g., EU Organic, IFOAM Basic standard, ISEAL standards, ISO 17065, 17011, USDA NOP,
various national standards), documents and websites were analyzed. In this article, we rely
mainly upon European examples for a few reasons: the significance of its market in global trade,
the first-leader advantage of its public standard, and the proactive approach used by European
donors and accreditors in expanding their reach across the globe.
After a first section dedicated to our analytical framework, the following empirical
sections describe standards-setting, certification, and accreditation activities in the global organic
field and their evolution over the last three decades. We then discuss our results transversally and
underline that the globalization of the organic field through the TSR generates important tensions
within the organic movement, and an increasingly blurred frontier between public and private
actors’ role in these evolutions.
The Tripartite Standards Regime heuristic as a layering of market institutions
The literature underlines the proliferation of voluntary standards in all sectors of economic
activity (Marx and Wouters 2014), which is explained by their strategic use by a variety of actors
(Mattli and Buthe 2003; Hatanaka et al. 2005; Bartley 2007). Standards enable the state to
regulate in a less costly way since the enforcement of regulations is outsourced to private actors
(Henson and Reardon 2005; O’Rourke 2006). Firms embrace standards in order to manage
supply chain risks, ensure conformity among all suppliers, limit competition and transaction
costs, or gain competitive advantages (Ponte and Gibbon 2005; Busch 2007). Civil society actors
use standards to advance their interests as consumers or activists (Murray and Raynolds 2000;
Djama et al. 2011). Beyond these “interest-based explanations, an increasing number of studies
focus on standard-setting processes. Some see their private nature and their inclusiveness as
important conditions to ensure the efficiency and legitimacy of the initiatives (Boström 2006;
Glasbergen et al. 2007; Bernstein 2011). Critiques reveal the inequitable access to resources
required by diverse actors to defend their positions and underline the influence of some powerful
actors, like consultants, in multi-stakeholder processes (Ponte and Cheyns 2013; Fouilleux 2013).
Although the EU has set up its standards 10 years earlier, the US and the EU regulatory regimes
are very similar and tend to converge (Winickoff and Klein 2011; Arcuri 2015) and examples
from the US might fit our demonstration in a similar way. A comparison between the two cases
could certainly be an argument for another paper, but due to space constraints, we focus mainly
on the global level from the EU entry point.
Broadly speaking, these studies focus mostly on standard development organizations’
(SDO) activities and do not pay acute attention to the interdependent dynamics of certification
and accreditation actors and activities. Certification and accreditation are most often studied in
the audit literature (Power 1997; Courville 2003; Campbell et al. 2011). The audit has power and
legitimacy as a governance mechanism as it is perceived to be an objective means to control
conformity (to any number of policies, norms, rules, codes of conduct, etc.) based on its three
fundamental characteristics: independence, measurement, and verification (Power 1997). Most
studies of audits and standards focus on the activities of third-party certification bodies (CBs).
These are described as a means to verify conformity and build trust in the standards’ system
(Courville 2003; Prakash and Gugerty 2010; McDermott 2012). Much of the literature does not
question the dominant logics of credibility and impartiality that condition their use. Certification
requires interpretation of standards by auditors and thus there is significant variation in how CBs
work and what they accept as valid evidence for compliance. This may cause confusion for
consumers or permit fraud in the system (Cochoy 2002; Mutersbaugh 2005).
Accreditation emerged in Australia and New Zealand in the late 1940s, spread to Europe
in the 1970s80s, and gained widespread acceptance in the 1990s as a means to ensure a higher-
level guarantee of certifiers’ competence. Since 2000, accreditation is organized internationally
through the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), which gathers 68 accreditation bodies
(ABs) (a mix of public, semi-public, and private organizations) that accredit certifiers who audit
management systems, products, services, and personnel. Their role is to legitimate standards and
certifications, to harmonize overlapping ones through mutual recognition agreements between
SDOs, and to calibrate CBs (Loconto and Busch 2010). Although ABs play an increasingly
important political role through the proliferation of standards and audits, the literature has paid
scant attention to their activities.
In sum, the current literature related to standard-setting, certification, and accreditation
has not yet fully taken the dynamics and interdependencies of these activities into account,
particularly with regard to the role of accreditation (Abbott and Snidal 2001). The literature still
regards these activities as interactions between rule-makers and rule-takers (Levi Faur and
Starobin 2014) without considering how standards work as market-making devices (Muniesa et
al. 2007). To fill this gap, we develop an analytical framework based on an institutionalist
approach to markets. We analyze the emergence of the organizational field as the result of an
institutionalization of multi-layered markets. By using actor-network theory, we relate these
institutional dynamics to the politics of markets and to the cognitive/ideational dimension of the
field (Schmidt 2008).
Multi-layered markets and institutionalization
We approach standards as institutions and the work of SDOs as processes of institutionalization
(Bartley 2007; Tamm Hallstrom and Boström 2010; Büthe and Mattli 2011), both contributing to
the emergence of a related organizational/institutional field (DiMaggio and Powell 1983;
Dingwerth and Pattberg 2009; Loconto and Fouilleux 2014). Lawrence and Philips (2004)
distinguish two constitutive elements of an organizational field: a set of institutions, including
practices, understandings, and rules; and a network of organizations. We echo the classical
Northian distinction between institutions as the rules of the game, and the organizations as the
players of the game, who, while following the rules, try to amend them in order to accommodate
their interests, values, and the technologies in which they invest (North 1990). More specifically,
we treat institutions as simultaneously given (as the context within which agents think, speak, and
act) and contingent (as the results of agents’ thoughts, words, and actions). They serve as both
structures that constrain actors and as constructs created and changed by those actors (Schmidt
Based on the case of ISEAL, Loconto and Fouilleux (2014) showed that the capacity to
articulate rules related to standard-setting, certification, and accreditation can be a key political
resource for an organization in institutionalizing the sustainability field. In this article, we assume
that with the voluntary standard as its core institution, the organic field is crucially structured
around and organized by a specific regulatory regime combining socio-technical standards,
certifications, and accreditations that can be described through the heuristic of a TSR (Loconto
and Busch 2010; Loconto et al. 2012; Hatanaka et al. 2012). As Busch (Busch 2011, p. 221)
TSRs differ from state-based modes of governance in that they are often a cobbled-
together network of persons, organizations, and things, rather than being constructed on a
formal hierarchy of status relations. TSR may be granted special status by nation-states, or
they may be an entirely private form of governance, subject to state laws about contracts,
fraud, and so forth, but not the subject of any special legislation.
We propose that a TSR can also be described as a bricolage of multiple layers of markets.
We adopt Callon’s vision of markets as “collective devices that allow compromises to be
reached, not only on the nature of the goods to produce and distribute but also on the value to be
given to them” (Callon and Muniesa 2005). Although the emergence of a “market for standards”
(Reinecke et al. 2012) and the “political construction of market institutions” through standards
(Bartley 2007, p. 299) have already been noted by scholars, the interactions between standards as
rules and standards as market creating devices and their resulting consequences remain
underexplored. The TSR markets are diverse. First, there is the market for certified products, in
which a number of actors interact in relation to material products which are transformed and/or
exchanged, i.e. producers, trade intermediaries, different types of processors, and finally
retailersboth specialized shops and supermarkets. Second, the market for certified products
directly relies upon some markets for services. Standard-setting concerns selling standards to
standard adopters while certification and accreditation consist of selling audits, inspections, and
controls. Third, in addition to these three core markets of a TSR, myriad other markets can be
described, targeting organic traders, retailers, and processors through a multitude of specialized
services (e.g., marketing services, training, web design, facilitation services, networking
platforms). Envisaging the TSR as multi-layered markets is what Cleaver (2002, p. 27) would call
institutional bricolage.” This refers to a multiplicity of formal and informal market institutions
where competition and collaboration interact through a dynamic coexistence.
By introducing the notion of a TSR as the articulation of diverse and variably layered
markets, we offer a way to better understand the multiple political dynamics at stake, which is
important for how such markets contribute to the institutionalization of the field on at least two
dimensions. The first refers to market politics as the political negotiations by powerful actors to
“solve the problems of competition and uncertainty” (Fligstein 2001, p. 69) in market relations.
This approach focuses on the role of the State in the market, which is described in the private
regulation literature as proactive, but hidden. Analytically, this means we pay attention to the
public/private relations at each pole of the TSR.
The second dimension extends the vision of “markets as politics” (Fligstein 1996) by
addressing the ideas and values at stake. We identify these analytically through the approach of
identifying enrolments and alliances. Indeed, a TSR can be described as a techno-economic
network, i.e., “a coordinated set of heterogeneous actors which interact more or less successfully
to develop, produce, distribute, and diffuse methods for generating goods and services” (Callon
1991, p. 133). By interconnecting the activities of standardization, accreditation, and certification,
the TSR shapes the organizational field by setting out the limits of what is considered to be
auditable, certifiable, accreditable, standardizable. The associations, interdependencies, and
irreversibilities that are created when these activities are combined rely upon the enrollment of
intermediaries and their entanglement in the network (Callon 1991; Rip 2010) so that a system of
market-focused governance based on standards can persist over time.
Thus, the TSR contributes to the institutionalization of the field by “mak[ing] a series of
links predictable, limit[ing] fluctuations, align[ing] actors and intermediaries, and cut[ting] down
the number of translations and the amount of information put into circulation” (Callon 1991, p.
151). The latter assertion helps us to explain the linkage to the conventionalization debate. By
cutting down the information put into circulation, the TSR strongly influences the cognitive and
ideational horizon of the field, i.e., the scope of the debate within it (Hoffman 1999). We provide
evidence in this paper to demonstrate that with voluntary standards as the core institution of the
field and its internal dynamics responding to the influence of the multi-layered markets of the
TSR, the scope of this debate (i.e., the number and variety of ideas in circulation within the field)
tends to be constricted to (international) market-compatible questions and framings.
Based on this analytical frame, the three following empirical sections describe the three
poles of the organic agriculture TSR and their evolution over the last three decades within the EU
and at the global level. For standards-setting, certification, and accreditation, we describe how the
corresponding markets for services and products were constructed over time and the role of the
different actors in their evolution and the politics involved.
Standard-setting: developing markets for products and for auditable standards
The role of standard-setting in the TSR is the construction of the ideational boundaries of the
field and their codification into rules that govern practices. Within this section, we examine two
core standard-setting activities within the organic organizational field that have developed over
the past two decades. We trace movements in the harmonization of standards as an example of
how simplifying the definition of organic across geo-political boundaries has strengthened the
field by expanding markets for organic products. Concurrently, the increasing external
competition from the “sustainability” field in the market for standards has further developed the
ideational boundary of the organic field.
From community-shared value-oriented principles to globalized auditable standards
In the nascent period of organic farming, confidence and inter-personal trust were the main
modes of social interaction among the actors within the organic field (Freyer and Bingen 2014).
The few existing organic “standards” (Demeter since 1928 and Soil Association since 1967) were
written more in the form of recommendations than standards, putting emphasis on farming
principles. Soon after its creation in 1972 by five national organic farming associations (British,
French, Swedish, American, and South African), the International Federation of Organic
Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) established the first global standard in 1980. At the time, this
standard was focused, almost exclusively, on “Northern” countries. Rather than a regulatory tool,
the standard was seen as a common definition of organic farming. This consisted of seven main
objectives including: “to work as much as possible within a closed system, and draw upon local
resources”; “to maintain the long-term fertility of soils”; or “to give livestock conditions of life
that conform to their physiological needs and to humanitarian principles(Schmid 2007, p.165).
Beyond these aspirations, much was left undefined, which allowed organic actors to interpret and
transfer these ideals into practices.
Beginning in the 1980s, however, organic farming went through a process of progressive
formalization. From being a means to embody and share values, the standards then evolved into a
list of auditable criteria. A crucial advancement in this formalization process was first taken at the
European level, with the adoption of the first EU organic regulation in 1991, which established
third-party certification as the only recognized procedure to implement the rule. Beginning in
2008, these certifiers were required to be accredited (see accreditation section). Following the
EU, other “Northern” countries defined their own public standards: Canada (COS) in 1998, Japan
(JAS) in 1999, and the US (NOP) in 2000.
With the development of organic markets in the northern countries, the market for exporting
organic tropical products has also grown, and standards have been implemented in Southern
countries. Since the 2000s, the number of public organic standards has doubled. As noted above,
110 countries have an active or draft organic regulation and there are at least 121 private organic
standards (UNCTAD et al. 2012). Most of these standards belong to the “IFOAM Family of
This standards-based approach is complemented by a discursive set of four
principles that are meant to motivate organic farming (“health, ecology fairness, and care”).
Through this multiplication of standards, the organic movement has become a truly global
phenomenon, as the evolution of IFOAM membership
reflects: IFOAM had 93 members in
1993, among which 80% came from OECD countries,
and 724 members in 2003, where 41%
came from non-OECD countries (Coleman and Reed 2007). In 2014 there were 807 members
with 44.5% of them from non-OECD countries.
Harmonization of standards: expanding the market for organic products
As a consequence of the multiplication of organic standards worldwide, the debate in the organic
field during the last decade was marked by a singular characteristic: the need to harmonize
organic standards. Actors use a two-fold justification; the first relates to consumer protection:
The IFOAM Family of Standards are supposed to have a “sound and credible criterion to ensure
organic integrity of products” (IFOAM website, accessed 26 November 2014).
IFOAM is an umbrella structure representing the actors of the organic field (farmers,
processors, certifiers, consultants, etc.). The only condition to be a voting member in this
organization is to have the main part of its activities in the organic sector (Geier 2007).
OECD is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which gathers the
economically most advanced countries in the world. Non-OECD countries are mostly developing
IFOAM website, accessed 13 June 2014.
harmonization can reduce consumer confusion. The second is a producer promotion argument,
where multiple certifications cause increased costs to farmers.
At the EU level, the argument that too many schemes create barriers to trade among
member states led to the 1991 regulation. When a major reform took place in 2007, it was again
based on the argument that more harmonization was needed in order to promote exchanges
among EU countries: the reform mainly aimed to decrease the number of exemptions allowed to
individual member states, and to reduce the divergences among member states in the
implementation of the rules (Gibbon and Ponte 2008). The 2014 proposal to reform the EU
organic regulation remains on the same path: it forwards the argument of the necessary reduction
of divergences in the implementation of the EU rules among member states.
At the global level, the argument is even more prevalent. With the core discourses of
avoiding barriers to trade and facilitating market access for developing countries, international
discussions about organics are clearly focused on issues of trade. Harmonization was first
supposed to happen through the Codex Alimentariusthe joint FAO/WHO
program for food
standards, which began developing guidelines for the production, processing, labeling, and
marketing of organically produced foods in 1991. In 1999 the plant production guidelines and in
2001 the guideline for animal production were approved.
However, given that the main
importing countries rely first on national legislation for importing organic products, the Codex
does not play a concrete harmonization role. Instead, harmonization occurs through three other
mechanisms. First, bilateral agreements between countries with public organic standards are
signed so to favor organic exchanges and to reduce barriers to trade. The EU also signed
equivalency agreements with Australia (1996), Argentina, Israel, and Switzerland (1998), New
Zealand (2002), Costa-Rica (2003), India (2006), Tunisia (2009), Japan (2010), Canada (2011),
and the US (2012). The second mechanism is through the promotion of regional standards.
“Models of public-private cooperation and regionalization [are] considered as potential pathways
for global solutions to the challenge of an increasing and divergent number of organic standards
and conformity assessment requirements(UNCTAD et al. 2012, p. 9). FAO, UNCTAD, and
World Health Organization.
The standard-setting process was highly influenced by the content of the EU regulation. The
discussions were focused on scientific details and legal aspects (lists of additives, proportions,
claims, etc.) rather than on the philosophy of organic farming.
IFOAM sponsor organic “regional harmonization initiatives” and hail them as big achievements.
For example, an East African Organic Product Standard was set up in 2007 and endorsed by the
East African Community. It was developed through collaboration between UNCTAD, UNEP,
IFOAM, Grolink,
and local public and private actors. Likewise, the Pacific Organic Standard
was developed by IFAD and IFOAM and was endorsed by the governments of the member
countries of the Pacific Community in 2008.
Finally, harmonization for the purpose of increased trade is pursued through collaboration
among international organizations at the trans-national level, often with references made to the
World Trade Organization and its sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to
trade agreement. IFOAM, FAO and UNCTAD collaborate “to address and reduce barriers to
trade of organic products resulting from the global proliferation of organic standards and
technical regulations” (UNCTAD et al. 2012, p. iii). This partnership began with the organization
of an International Task Force on Harmonization and Equivalence in Organic Agriculture (ITF).
The ITF resulted in the definition of a set of tools and recommendations dedicated to assessing
the equivalence of the existing organic standards around the world and their certification
performance requirements. Subsequently the Global Organic Market Access (GOMA) project
was launched in 2009, and ended in 2012, with the theme: “Let the good products flow!We see
the same discourses used in the “IFOAM Family of standards,” promoted by IFOAM since 2010
as a set of harmonized, “auditable,” and trade facilitating standards.
The problem of sustainability: increased competition in the market for standards
An important evolution in the debates about organic standards occurred during the last decade.
This is directly related to the now de facto inclusion of organic within the broader community of
sustainability standards.” Standards like Rainforest Alliance, UTZ Certified, or even GlobalGAP
increasingly point to sustainability arguments in their legitimating discourses (Fouilleux 2012).
On the supermarkets shelves, organic certified products are increasingly challenged by other
certified products that carry environmental and social claims and labels. However, these
“sustainability standards” not only threaten the market share or political legitimacy of organic
Grolink is a Swedish consultancy specialized in organic farming.
standards, they also push organic actors to redefine some of their practices and the type of
indicators they use.
This phenomenon is illustrated by the recent Sustainable Organic Agriculture Action
Network (SOAAN) project that was developed by IFOAM, with the financial support of Migros,
between 2011 and 2013. The main output was a Best practice guideline for agriculture and value
chains, public version 1.0 November 2013. The format and content are reminiscent of
sustainability standards (i.e., a guideline as a list of detailed “add-on” modulesgender and
equity, land rights, GHG emissions, water, investment, accountability, etc.and the label
“version 1.0”). This is but one example of the acculturation of the organic movement to new
practices brought to it by the sustainability standards community, such as the notion of multiple
versions of the standards. It also illustrates the pressure that the organic movement feels to take a
stance within the sustainability community. Specifically, the guideline is presented as “the
contribution by the organic movement to the global discussion on sustainable agriculture”
(IFOAM 2013, p. 3).
Another illustration of the pressure to conform, are the recent attempts to benchmark
organic standards to other types of standards. At a meta-standard level, new instruments were
developed as Codes of Best Practice in order to gain procedural consistency between
sustainability standards (Loconto and Fouilleux 2014). Specifically, IFOAM and UNCTAD
conducted a side-by-side comparison of organics and GLOBALGAP and came to the conclusion
that: “to address those issues covered by GLOBALGAP
but not the EU Organic Agriculture
Regulation, the paper suggests creating an add-on module on hygiene, contamination and
social/labor issues for certified organic products to facilitate market entry where GLOBALGAP
is required” (UNCTAD 2009, p. 1). This idea of benchmarking and enhancing interoperability
Migros is a Swiss retailer, well known in the mainstream agriculture community for its
advocacy for more sustainable practices in the name of consumers.
Although initially food safety oriented, Global Gap now presents itself as a sustainability
standard and includes social and environmental aspects: “We’re a global organization with a
crucial objective: safe, sustainable agriculture worldwide”
( Global GAP is a subscriber member to
the ISEAL Alliance
among voluntary sustainability standards (including their harmonization and equivalence), is a
central feature of the work of the recently launched UN Forum for Sustainability Standards.
In sum, despite a continued values-based discourse that is embedded in IFOAM’s four
principles (health, ecology, fairness, and care) and the inclusion of new items through
sustainability discourses, these examples illustrate the narrowing of the organic debate, from an
early focus on specific social and environmental territorially embedded ethics and values to
questions of standards and market efficiencies. They also illustrate a trend towards the
sustainabilitization of organics.
Certification: in search of new markets for certification
The main role of certification in a TSR is to provide a guarantee that actors comply with
standards. It is in this way that the values and criteria that are laid out in standards are enforced
(Henson and Humphrey 2010). We trace these values by showing how markets for certifications
are expanding and “sustainabilitizing.”
From first and second-party to the hegemony of third-party certification
The most common model of certification isthird-party,” where certifiers are private actors,
independent from the SDO; they are paid by the farmers to control their practices, and release a
certificate of conformity to the standard. However, the origin of organic lies with the use of other
models of certification, now referred to as “first-“ (where private individuals or groups self-
declare their compliance with a standard) and “second-party” certification (where an organization
to which the controlled entity belongs provides the assurance).
Indeed, the first European experiments relied upon groups of farmers who conducted self-
control and peer-reviews (Freyer and Bingen 2014). Control processes were not always strictly
formalized because they were not seen as a priority; instead, the main issue for the movement at
Internal communication, 14 November 2014. See:
its beginning was to diffuse the organic knowledge, techniques, and advice. In France for
example, Nature & Progrès was created in 1964 as an activist association (among many others at
that time). They set their first standard in 1972, and in 1978 they created an association of
independent advisors in organic agriculture (ACAB). In 1981, ACAB began to organize the
audits for Nature et Progrès. In 1988/89, the certification function was assigned by various SDOs
(Nature et Progrès, FNAB, BioBourgogne) to new types of organizations. These were mixed
commissions of authorization and control that consisted of producers, experts, and consumers
(Nature et Progrès 2011; Garcia-Papet 2012). In legal terms, it is only in 1988, with the creation
of a national commission to sanction standards by the State that audits became mandatory.
Nonetheless, first- and second-party controls were still allowed. Beginning in 1989, in line with
the adoption of the EU norm 45011, third-party certification became obligatory. The
Europeanization of national organic rules signaled the institutionalization of third-party
Since then, the dominant form of certification in global organic markets is third-party, and
a range of third-party CBs around the world are now in the business of assuring compliance
(Hatanaka and Busch 2008). The number of private certification bodies working in the field of
organics grew by 50% in the recent decade: in 2012, there were a total of 549 certification bodies
based in 85 countries (UNCTAD et al. 2012). Hatanaka and Busch (Hatanaka et al. 2005) argue
that the objectives of third-party certification are shaped by the marketing strategies and
economic interests of supermarkets. While this interest certainly remains, we observe a change in
the certification landscape of the organic field, whereby certifiers are increasingly becoming
strategic actors themselves in pursuit of markets. Many of the large CBs are dynamic businesses
that have diversified their portfolio of products and services. It is increasingly common to find
them active in standards’ development, certification, and inspection audits (Djama et al. 2011;
Loconto et al. 2012).
With the global expansion of organic markets in the 1990s, the debate arose about how to
certify the hundreds of thousands of small-scale producers in developing countries efficiently.
IFOAM thus worked with its members to standardize requirements for internal control systems
(ICS), which were accepted by the EU in 2003. This system of group certification is based on an
internal quality system, whereby an ICS manager creates internal standards and practices risk
assessment. Farmers in the group must be aware of organic practices, but it is the manager of the
ICS who conducts the audits. The third-party auditor checks on the proper functioning of the ICS
and conducts field visits only to a sample of the group members’ farms. Thus, third-party
certification is made a bit more “flexible.” In most cases, such systems are implemented and
financed by the buyers (exporters/importers) directly.
Finally, participatory guarantee systems (PGS) must be mentioned. This recent re-
emergence of the original second-party certification model directly challenges third-party
certification, which is denounced as too costly for small-scale producers and not applicable to
local agro-ecological and socio-technical conditions. After decades of focusing on third-party
certification, IFOAM began to advocate for PGS in 2009. PGS are now found in 38 countries,
and endorsed by the State in Bolivia, Brazil, and India. However, PGS are not recognized by the
main importers of organic products and thus they are used mainly for domestic markets and
remain marginal on a global scale.
Transformation of the market for organic certification
With the explosion of the market for organic products and the legal imposition of third-party
certification in the 1990s, the market for organic certification has gone through a deep
transformation. First, it was marked by an intense professionalization. Former associations and
informal groups either disappeared or were transformed into enterprises offering third-party
certification services.
Second, with the reputation of organic certification as a lucrative activity,
multinational CBs with no previous experience in the organic field, like SGS or Bureau Veritas,
have entered the organic certification market. Due to their economic strength, they increase
competition for the pre-existing CBs in the field (Garcia-Papet 2012). Third, a reverse evolution
is also taking place, where organic CBs are progressively expanding their activities beyond the
boundaries of the field. In this way they are weakening the link with the initial organic political
project, as the case of Ecocert illustrates.
Ecocert was created in 1991 out of the ACAB association, which we described above as a
historically engaged activist in the French organic movement. It obtained its first authorization as
Some association-based certifiers are still active but they are generally more territorially rooted
and still defend a mission-based vision of their activities in the organic field (Garcia-Papet 2012).
an “Organic inspection body” from the State in 1992, and its first “accreditation” in 1996.
Ecocert began as a small, mission-oriented certifier, who worked only in organic certification.
Over the past 20 years, Ecocert has become a multinational CB. With 23 offices and subsidiaries,
Ecocert operates in over 80 countries. Moreover, Ecocert is no longer only an organic certifier.
Since the mid-2000s it has diversified its certification markets through a rising number of
accreditations and authorizations. Ecocert now certifies standards like Ecological and organic
textiles, IFS Food, GLOBALG.A.P, ISO 14001, 9001and 26000, PEFC (Program for the
Endorsement of Forest Certifications), and VCS (Verified Carbon Standard). In addition, since
2002 Ecocert has become a standard-setter by developing its own range of standards for gardens,
restaurants, spas, and cleaning products.
Ecocert is not an outlier, but rather part of a trend in
the industry. For example, the Institute for Marketecology (IMO), a Swiss certifier that also grew
out of the organic movement, has followed a similar path. IMO now provides certification and
inspection services for over 70 different standards, including their own “Fair for Life” standard.
A major trend in this market consists of a diversification towards CBs offering a variety of
standards, a phenomenon described as “one-stop-shops for certification” (Djama et al. 2011). In
the organic movement, a number of actors denounce the fact that certifiers are decreasingly
“mission-driven” actors and increasingly purely “profit-driven” entities. A debate is on-going
within IFOAM on this issue and some actors argue that only certifiers with more than 50% of
their activities in organic farming should be allowed to apply for IFOAM-accreditation. The
IFOAM World Board has opposed to this option based on a business-oriented argument:
Certification bodies should be free to engage in the various certification schemes required
to sustain their business. Nowadays, organic operators often need multiple certifications
(e.g., organic + Global GAP + Rainforest Alliance + Fair Trade) and it is only rational
that they can access all those from one single certification body (…) Having such a
requirement for 50% organic activity would make it impossible for CBs who want to start
an organic activity to become IFOAM/IOAS Accredited, which we believe would be
In 2005, Ecocert created the “ Filiale Ecopass” (“Ecocert Environment” since 2012),
specialized in environmental certification for firms and cooperatives, and a “Filiale Ecocert
Greenlife” in 2008, specialized in inspections and certification for eco-products (e.g., cosmetics,
textiles, detergents, air deodorizers).
counter-productive in terms of increasing access to credible organic certification.
(IFOAM 2014, p. 5)
To defend their business model, CBs argue that their multiple-certification approach
offers a way to reduce costs for small farmers faced with an increasing obligation to hold
multiple certifications (e.g., fair trade and organic, organic and GlobalGAP, etc.). In both cases,
the debate is shaped by the market for certification.
Accreditation: public/private tensions and global inconsistencies
Within a TSR, accreditation provides the means to ensure the credibility of third-party CBs. In
practice, this means compliance with the ISO 17065 standard for conformity assessment bodies
with the organic standard specification. Within the organic agriculture field there are two main
systems of accreditation. One is embedded in national and supra-national legal systems and
performed by national ABs belonging to the IAF. The other is strictly private and performed by a
specialized organization, the International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS).
The first system is fully controlled by the State. In the EU, accreditation is ruled by the
Regulation (EC) No 765/2008, which standardizes the requirements for accreditation and market
surveillance. In this document, the EU defines accreditation as a not-for-profit activity that can be
carried out by public or private actors and stipulates national monopolies for ABs. The argument
for such monopolies is that competition between ABs would distract these bodies from their
primary mission of serving as the state-sanctioned authority in the conformity assessment chain.
However, while this regulation was created to reduce competition between ABs within
Europe, we see increasing tensions as European ABs begin to compete in accreditation markets
outside of Europe. The EU import regime for organic has two paths; either there is an
equivalency agreement with the exporting countries (cf. the bilateral negotiations mentioned in
the standard-setting section) whereby the products certified by accredited certifiers in third-
countries can enter the European market without these CBs needing an EU accreditation. Or,
when there is no bilateral agreement with the exporting country, third-party certifiers must set
Regulation (EC) No 765/2008 paragraphs 14 and 19.
standards based on the EU rules (“checklists” in the EU jargon), and submit those standards to
the European Commission for approval.
Such a regime has various implications. First, European ABs expand their market
presence within third-country markets, by using the public authority that they exercise in the EU
to become “accreditors for the world.” For example the German national AB (DAkkS) accredits
Biolatina (Peru), Argencert (Argentina), COAE and ECOA (Egypt), CertiMex (Mexico), and
Indocert (India). Second, to work around these EU legal restrictions, there is a tendency for
accredited multi-national CBs to subcontract inspection services to local CBs. These activities are
criticized as a loss of control by “credible” CBs over the audit activities. Third, as CBs develop
their checklists that harmonize the national, private, and public standards needed in international
markets, they become EU-sanctioned standard-setters who adapt public standards for the private
market. Finally, the checklist system becomes a system of “shadow accreditation” by the EC,
which becomes a central actor for overseeing certification activities in third-countries. For
example, on the Turkish certifier ETKO’s website, they present their EC approval as an “EU
The current revision of the EU Organic Regulation proposes eliminating the
equivalency provisions, which would extend even further the reach of the EU standard and its
embedded TSR.
The second system of organic accreditation is performed by a private transnational AB.
IOAS, a US based non-profit organization, provides ISO/IEC 17065 accreditation for third-party
CBs according to the 2010 IFOAM “auditable standard.” IOAS is part of the IFOAM Organic
Guarantee Scheme that establishes equivalence between private and public organic production
standards. The IOAS was created by IFOAM in 1997 as a legitimate way to conform to the
widespread idea encoded in ISO 17065 that in order to be credible, accreditation should be
delivered by an organization independent from the standard-setter. The creation of IOAS was
also a means to provide standardized accreditation around the world according to IFOAM norms,
i.e., to “establish a mechanism for building trust amongst the various certification bodies” (Katto-
Andrighetto 2012, p. 18), and a response to IFOAM’s concerns over the growing number of
government regulations for Organic, i.e., as a way to defend the “rights and role of the private
Among the list of 48 EU recognized CBs in May 2014, there are seven American, five Italian,
three Argentinean, three German, and three Indian (EU website, 13 June 2014).
16, accessed 13 June 2014
sector” in the global organic field. This accreditation system has generated tensions with the
European authorities. National ABs have threatened to sue some concerned actors.
attempts by IOAS to become a member of the IAF since its creation, their membership request
has been systematically denied, because of the EU position that ABs must be legally mandated to
represent the state in accreditation services.
Interestingly, in Canada the state delegates
accreditation to IOAS for its public organic standard.
Finally, the same trend of “sustainabilitization” can be observed in accreditation pole of
the TSR. Initially rooted in the organic movement, IOAS seeks to expand their markets beyond
the boundaries of the organic field. They now deliver accreditations for an increasing number of
sustainability standards like Rainforest Alliance (a direct competitor to the organic standard),
organic textiles (Textile Exchange, Global Organic Textile Standard), and organic cosmetics
(NATRUE, COSMOS Organic). In its arrangement with the American National Standards
Institute, IOAS conducts accreditation audits for food safety standards such as GlobalGAP and
the British Retailers Consortium standard. Indeed, it seems that the ability of both national and
international accreditors to offer a range of accreditation services in markets outside of their
countries of origin is fundamental to how they spread the reach of the organic TSR. This
extended reach of the TSR is seen by some actors within the organic field as a direct threat to the
political project of organic. An IFOAM staff member crystalized this in his statement that: “We
sold our soul to the devil long ago with certification. […] We had to buy into this system, the ISO
system, as a way of legitimization [..] but there are too many conflicts of interests.”
The first point that emerges from our analysis is that the multi-layered market structure of the
TSR has a conventionalization effect on the organic sector (Jaffee and Howard 2009; De Wit and
Interview with IOAS and Accreditation Services International (ASI), Bonn, Germany 30 June
Despite these tensions, IOAS is approved by the EU to conduct accreditation assessments in
third-countries (e.g., they accredit CBs for ISO 17065 plus EU organic in New-Zealand, India,
Turkey, Brazil, USA, and Canada).
Verhoog 2007; Darnhofer et al. 2010). As we described, the early 1980s were still characterized
mostly by private standards, existing mainly in Northern countries. They codified general
principles and were used not as a means to assess conformity, but rather as means to give farmers
(accompanied by pioneering scientists) an identity and to diffuse specific values inside and
outside of the movement. The 1990s, however, marked a turning point. In parallel to a stronger
involvement of governments (e.g., EU, US), standards and conformity control institutions and
procedures were increasingly formalized and codified. The standards were rewritten for
inspection bodies, making them more detailed and auditable, and there was a boom in the
certification and accreditation businesses. As a result, actors of the organic field focused their
attention on the harmonization of standards and conformity assessment procedures.
Paradoxically, such a search for increased collaboration was used to both consolidate markets and
create competition between actors in each of the TSR poles. This competition regime of
governance has had the effect of limiting the political debates to predominantly trade and market-
compatible options. In other words, the conventionalization of organic is not only occurring
because farmers are fudging practices, engaging in parallel non-organic production or because the
standards are co-opted by powerful interests (Jaffee and Howard 2009; De Wit and Verhoog
2007; Darnhofer et al. 2010; Mutersbaugh 2005); but also because the structures of the TSR
constrain the direction in which both the debate and the acceptable activities are able to go
Second, harmonization efforts also served the dual purpose of expanding the markets for
both organic products and auditable standards to new geographic spaces, with the consequence of
“exporting” (political scientists would call it “transferring) the associated neoliberal politics to
the Global South. The development of organic standards in tropical farming systems by importers
and development agencies has increased the markets for both organic products and organic TSR
services dramatically. In these countries, organic agriculture is now known mainly through an
embedded TSR where European (and American) service providers dominate (Willer and Lernoud
2015). Contrary to the situation in the Global North, where the organic movement was initially
deeply socially rooted and territorially embedded, organic farming in the Global South has
developed primarily as an a export-oriented commercial model. In Africa particularly, it is
supported and developed as a business opportunity and its promoters are very weaklyif at all
related to the peasant movement. For example, at the recent 3rd African Conference on Organic
Agriculture, which took place in October 2015 in Lagos, Nigeria, only 44 farmers out of more
than 200 participants were present and there was no formal representation of the main African
peasants’ organizations (e.g., ROPPA).
Thirdly, our results show that the development of the organic TSR as an embedded
component of a broader “sustainability field” (Dingwerth and Pattberg 2009; Loconto and
Fouilleux 2014), which promotes the TSR model of techno-politics, also plays a role in the
conventionalization trend of organics. At the standardization pole of the TSR, the mushrooming
of so-called “sustainability standards,” most of them being potential competitors for organics on
the vast voluntary standards market, has pushed the organic movement to address new issues not
formerly included in their political project and by following global meta-standards. Sustainability
also opens new market opportunities. At the certification and accreditation poles, the operators
are no longer specialized in organics; rather they sell a number of other voluntary standards,
codes, certifications and accreditations in sometimes quite unrelated spheres of activity. A
“mission-drift” is taking place, whereby the business of auditing (with its profit-driven motive) is
diluting the business of expanding the market for organic products (with its attached moral
economy and political project) (Jaffee and Howard 2009).
These trends do not go without tensions and conflicts. For example, the issue of
certification is increasingly a point for open debate, as this public declaration by an IFOAM
world board member at the 2014 Biofach fair illustrates: “We must get out the trap of
certification. We have put all our energy in certification those last years and now it is chaos. We
must open the debate and work on other things than only certification.”
Similar discussions,
pitting IFOAM members against each other and the world board itself, took place at the 2014
World Organic Congress in Istanbul. During the meeting the advocates of third party certification
had to face their detractors, who were denouncing their business/sustainability/greenwash
orientations, and were instead advocating for the use of PGS as the preferred form of
certification. IFOAM’s current explanation of PGS is that it is a “complementary” approach to
third-party certification.
This internal line of fragmentation within the organic movement also
appeared through the debate that was generated by the motion presented by the Soil Association
to the last IFOAM General Assembly in Istanbul. They proposed that IFOAM re-join ISEAL, the
Nuremberg, 14 February 2014.
See, accessed 23
October 2015 and interview with IFOAM CEO, 5 October 2015.
global umbrella organization for voluntary private sustainability standards. The proposal
encountered internal opposition because although IFOAM had been a founding member of
ISEAL, it quit this organization in 2010 due to concerns over greenwashing (Loconto and
Fouilleux 2014). The decision taken by the General Assembly was that IFOAM become a
subscriber to ISEAL for one-year trial period, which demonstrates the uneasy relationship
between factions within the sustainability field (Dingwerth and Pattberg 2009).
Finally, the evidence presented in this article demonstrates that the institutionalization of
the organic field has evolved in terms of the content and function of standards, where market
competition plays a defining role even in collaborative efforts. As Schmid (2007, p. 159-160)
explains, “in the pioneer phase the standards brought organic farmers together, whereas later, the
standards seemed to divide them.” By looking through the TSR heuristic, we open the black box
of how actors interact to institutionalize the field and thus provide the evidence to support
Schmid’s statement. Furthermore, our analysis also brings some new elements to the literature
addressing the public/private divide in the field of voluntary standards (Verbruggen 2013; Arcuri
2015; Bartley 2011). First, public authorities have an active role in turning organics into a
political project of market construction as organic is the only standard in the sustainability field
with significant public regulation (Arcuri 2015); we see this with the EU regulation appearing as
a crucial driver in the building of the global organic TSR by disseminating both the content of the
standards and the rules for certification and accreditation to the rest of the world. We also identify
the role of international organizations in diffusing the practices of the TSR and their trade-based
corresponding values, particularly in developing countries. Second, facing these public actors we
see actors who primarily define themselves as being “non-state” with a blurred and “unspoken”
frontier separating them from the more classic “for-profit” private actors (this sense of “being
private” is another explanation for the proximity of some IFOAM member organizations to
ISEAL). Nevertheless, farmers’ organizations and NGOs that generally consider themselves as
the “private” sector when they engage in standard-setting, are now increasingly in competition
not only with public actors, but also with certifiers who are becoming standard-setters. Similarly,
“non-state” actors who have created international accreditation bodies to serve the needs of
organic and sustainability standards are increasingly in competition with professional accreditors
delegated by the State.
In this article we analyzed the institutionalization of organic agriculture over that last three
decades through the construction of a TSR. This institutionalization has occurred through the
creation of markets for standards, certifications, and accreditations in addition to the primary
market for organic products. We show a hybrid governance structure whereby actors with
conflicting interests, visions, and political projects compete in the field, but actually tend to
converge by the type of institutions that implement and support them (Hargrave and Van de Ven
2006). Despite the conflicts between public and private actors over the control of activities at the
three poles of the TSR, they still find themselves engaged in a common activity: the active
construction of markets and the facilitation of their expansion. We argue that this layering of
markets is part of the institutionalization of the organic agriculture organizational field and that it
has some important performative effects. The inclusion of the organic field within a broader field
dedicated to sustainability, which is also institutionalized through the TSR model, tends to
reinforce this phenomenon by shifting the politics of the organic project. As a set of well-
articulated market institutions, the TSR orients and consequently narrows the scope of debate.
The discussions become restricted to “marketable” or “market-compatible” dimensions and
objects, specifically in terms of what can be standardized and audited and how. In addition, we
see that over the past decade the clear separation between organic standard-setting, certification
and accreditation activities (theoretically targeted at maintaining the integrity of the institutions
within the TSR) is beginning to dissolve through the expansion of markets, leaving the floor to
increasingly interdependent forms of activities and responsibilities.
Moreover, the organic case sheds light on the TSR as a stimulating heuristic. The TSR
allows us to open the black box of how regulation is actually performed and puts the focus on
actors who are often missed in discussions of private regulation and institutionalization at the
global level. Such an analytical approach, which is a way to integrate the institutionalist and the
performative approaches to studying markets (Fligstein and Dauter 2006), could help analyzing
dynamics in other fields of activity regulated through voluntary standards and many related
globalization dynamics. An interesting avenue for future research could explore the activities of
those intermediary actors who are providing additional TSR services beyond standard-setting,
certification and accreditation, including the plethora of consultants who directly or indirectly
make their living thanks to the TSR model of techno-politics. By going from one organization to
the other and one pole of the TSR to the other in different institutional fields, they ensure key
transnational networking activities and actively participate in the expansion of this model.
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... The adoption of common standards sometimes occurred in spite of organisational policies that favoured other technologies as internet technologies were easier and cheaper to implement than formal international networking standards such as X. 25. We now often now talk about 'network effects' in terms of how online services can grow to dominate a sector once they have enough people signed up, and we can see the adoption of the internet itself as one such network effect. ...
... In these situations, when emerging technologies increase incentives for first strike and uncertainty about state intentions, countries may find themselves in a spiral towards otherwise undesired conflict. 25 The capability-vulnerability paradox exacerbates this dynamic by putting even more pressure on the states that are behind the technological curve to strike early. Because these less capable states cannot compete with militaries that have fully adopted the new revolutionary technology, they fear they cannot survive against a more capable, technologically advanced military, even in a limited-aims coercive war. ...
... 24 Even the enforcement of technical standards by means of certification and accreditation is primarily left to private actors. 25 The predominance of private sector actors in international technical standardization is both the result of the fact that they possess more technical expertise and can be traced back to the domestic standardization approaches of the most influential countries, namely the US and the EU. 26 As a result, the growing influence of standardization in power competition and the rising engagement of state actors -not least due to China's rise -is challenging the very nature of technical standardization. ...
... The adoption of common standards sometimes occurred in spite of organisational policies that favoured other technologies as internet technologies were easier and cheaper to implement than formal international networking standards such as X. 25. We now often now talk about 'network effects' in terms of how online services can grow to dominate a sector once they have enough people signed up, and we can see the adoption of the internet itself as one such network effect. ...
... In these situations, when emerging technologies increase incentives for first strike and uncertainty about state intentions, countries may find themselves in a spiral towards otherwise undesired conflict. 25 The capability-vulnerability paradox exacerbates this dynamic by putting even more pressure on the states that are behind the technological curve to strike early. Because these less capable states cannot compete with militaries that have fully adopted the new revolutionary technology, they fear they cannot survive against a more capable, technologically advanced military, even in a limited-aims coercive war. ...
... 24 Even the enforcement of technical standards by means of certification and accreditation is primarily left to private actors. 25 The predominance of private sector actors in international technical standardization is both the result of the fact that they possess more technical expertise and can be traced back to the domestic standardization approaches of the most influential countries, namely the US and the EU. 26 As a result, the growing influence of standardization in power competition and the rising engagement of state actors -not least due to China's rise -is challenging the very nature of technical standardization. ...
... Certificates are often presented as powerful tools for shaping bioeconomic production processes and trade, but their specific effects are subjected to debate (Corsin et al 2007;Lytton 2014;Fouilleux & Loconto 2017;Loconto and Hatanaka 2018;Majer et al 2018). Being voluntary and often established by private organizations, they represent a form of regulation outside of government, or self-regulation. ...
... The prominent position granted to such instruments is related to a broader trend in natural resource governance towards voluntary agreements and self-regulation (Löfmarck et al. 2017). Certification schemes can be organized by independent institutions that develop standards for sustainability, and implementation is usually overseen by accredited third-party certifiers who audit compliance (Loconto and Busch 2010;Fouilleux and Loconto 2017;Loconto 2017). Schemes can, however, also be developed at the initiative of producers, for example through national or international trade organizations. ...
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Sustainability certificates are increasingly used as tools for shaping bioeconomic production processes and trade. However, their specific effects are subjected to debate. A multitude of certificate schemes and standards are currently in use, defining and measuring sustainability in the bioeconomy in highly varying ways. Different representations of environmental effects, resulting from the use of different standards or scientific methods in certification, can have very real implications for how, where and to which degree bioeconomic production can be conducted and the environment will be conserved. Further, the implications for bioeconomic production practices and management embedded in the environmental knowledge employed in bioeconomic sustainability certificates will produce different winners and losers, and privilege some societal or individual concerns at the expense of others. In this way, sustainability certificates share some characteristics with other standards and policy tools that embody political contingencies, but are presented and often understood as objective and neutral. The paper argues that the politics of environmental knowledge involved in these processes warrant more awareness, scrutiny and explicit consideration from decision makers, policy developers and researchers.
... As yet, the third-party certification has played a vital role in fostering consumer trust in organic products. Due to the high costs of certification and documentation requirements, small-scale farmers face difficulties in obtaining third-party certification and accessing local markets [11]. As an alternative approach, Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) became popular among local markets with the continued growth of organic farming [11], [12]. ...
... Due to the high costs of certification and documentation requirements, small-scale farmers face difficulties in obtaining third-party certification and accessing local markets [11]. As an alternative approach, Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) became popular among local markets with the continued growth of organic farming [11], [12]. PGS is a volunteer-driven quality assurance system that focuses on the domestic level. ...
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Organic food supply chains are faced with heavy pressure to increase their output to meet the global demand. This confronts various challenges including scandals, adulteration, contamination, and growing regulations. As an alternative to third-party certification, Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are popular community-based quality assurance system that integrates the social verification context into the organic certification process. As PGS is a local community-driven system, it has inherent limitations in the scalability of reaching consensus as the size of participants increases. The organic food industry has the potential to grow globally therefore, an appropriate scalable consensus mechanism is needed to deal with community-level consensus as an alternative to the existing PGS system. Blockchain architecture with hybrid consensus mechanisms seems to be the potential solution to address the trust and scalability issues in the organic food supply chain. This paper proposes a socially inspired hybrid blockchain architecture for the organic food supply chain to address the scalability issues via hybridizing two consensuses’ mechanisms with the combined advantages of Proof of Authority (PoA) and Federated Byzantine Agreement (FBA). In the proposed architecture, much eminent aspect of community-level trust is integrated into the consensus process. Furthermore, this paper presents a concept-level validation as a qualitative analysis of the proposed architecture based on experts’ opinions. Concept-level validation of the proposed model acknowledged that, in the context of social verification, the credibility of the organic products would be enhanced, and hybridization of the consensuses would mitigate the scalability issues.
... To account for these phenomena of hybridization and conventionalization, the researchers worked on the actors' characteristics, for example, to determine whether organic farmers' motivations were different from those of conventional farmers and whether these motivations differed between pioneers and newcomers (Hall and Mogyorody 2001;Lockie and Halpin 2005;Best 2008). They also worked on the ways that alternative agri-food networks were organized, putting emphasis in particular on the roles of standards and certification (DuPuis and Gillon 2009;Raynolds 2009;Fouilleux and Loconto 2017) or showing the importance of processing and distribution infrastructures (Klein 2015;Clark and Inwood 2016). Finally, some of these studies led to analysis of the connections between alternative agri-food networks and the agri-food system's dominant operating patterns. ...
... The problem for rural studies is then to grasp the "materiality" of agri-food markets. The sociology of market agencements is close in this respect to the studies that have shown the impacts of standards and labels (Raynolds 2009;Fouilleux and Loconto 2017) and the importance of distribution infrastructure (Ilbery and Maye 2005;Klein 2015) in alternative agri-food networks. However, in taking up the matter of materiality systematically, it also makes it possible to look at other market devices, the importance of which is less well known, such as packaging (Phillips 2016), charts of price lists (Henry 2017), displays urging farmers to save (Onyas et al. 2018), and so on. ...
The aim of this article is to show the relevance of the sociology of market agencements (an off shoot of actor–network theory) for studying the creation of alternative agri-food networks. The authors start with their finding that most research into alternative agri-food networks takes a strictly informative, cursory look at the conditions under which these networks are gradually created. They then explain how the sociology of market agencements analyzes the construction of innovative markets and how it can be used in agri-food studies. The relevance of this theoretical frame is shown based on an experiment aimed at creating a local trade scheme between manure from livestock farms and alfalfa grown by grain farmers. By using the concepts of the sociology of market agencements, the authors reveal the operations that are required to create an alternative agri-food network and underscore the difficulties that attend each one of these operations. This enables them to see the phenomena of lock-ins and sociotechnical transition in a new light.KeywordsActor–network theoryAgroecologyAlternative agri-food networksCrop-livestock integrationMarketizationInnovation
... An element of agroecology that has received less attention is the market for agroecological products and the market infrastructures required to ensure that an "agroecological" quality is recognized and valued in commercial exchanges . While organic agriculture has created a set of institutions that allow producers to know which practices provide "organic" quality and allow consumers to recognize it via an on-package label (Fouilleux and Loconto, 2017), the landscape of agroecological products is quite fluid and diverse. ...
While organic agriculture has created a set of institutions that allow producers to know which practices provide “organic” quality and allow consumers to recognize it via an on-package label, the landscape of agroecological products is quite fluid and diverse. Often, products are traded directly between producers and consumers and quality is conveyed verbally. However, there has been a general increase in the use of private labels to claim that products are agroecological or “more than organic”. This article explores these recent innovations by asking: How does agroecology become a product quality claim in innovative forms of quality control? To answer this question, data on labels claiming to be “agroecological” and related assurance systems were gathered through internet research, market monitoring and semi-structured interviews in the European Union. In this article we explore the range of claims, and control networks, used to characterize the so-called “agroecological” labels and confront them with FAO’s 10 principles of agroecology. This 27-country comparison offers interesting insights into the overlaps and boundaries between agroecology and organic agriculture in terms of the markets that are created.
... également associés à l'exploitation illégale et non durable des forêts primaires constatées dans les pays du bassin du Congo à l'instar du Cameroun, de nombreux problèmes d'ordre social (Assembe-Mvondo 2013). Au rang de ces dommages constatés, on note par exemple la marginalisation des usages aussi bien coutumiers qu'ancestraux des communautés locales et riveraines, la spoliation des droits des communautés locales et riveraines, diverses restrictions de leurs accès aussi bien aux forêts qu'aux terres agricoles en milieu forestier(Kalonga et al., 2017).Ce contexte de recrudescence des impacts sociaux et environnementaux en rapport avec l'exploitation des ressources naturelles, notamment forestières dans les pays du bassin du Congo, la globalisation de ces enjeux associée à l'intensification des pressions des parties prenantes a eu pour conséquence la prolifération de plusieurs régimes privés de labellisation(Auld et al., 2008;Fouilleux & Loconto 2017). Dans un tel contexte, la certification forestière s'érige en un enjeu majeur de promotion de la confiance entre les parties prenantes du secteur forestier(Seyller et al. 2015; Pippila, 2013). ...
Engagement des entreprises d'exploitation forestières en Afrique centrale dans une démarche de labélisation/certification: Une expérience en contexte camerounais, NDOUMBE BEROCK, I. Date de soumission : 21/02/2022 Date d'acceptation : 04/07/2022 Résumé : Cet article a pour finalité de comprendre comment les motivations supposées des entreprises du secteur de l'industrie forestière en Afrique Centrale à s'inscrire dans une démarche de labellisation. Méthodologiquement, ce travail se focalise sur un échantillon de trois cas d'étude empirique des compagnies forestières exerçant au Cameroun, dont une entreprise A certifiée (cas modèles, du fait de leur engagement dans le processus de certification forestière dans la zone d'étude), une autre entreprise B en cours de certification (cas intermédiaires) et enfin une dernière entreprise C hostile à la certification (cas marginaux, du fait de leur hostilité à un processus de certification dans la zone d'étude). L'association de ces différents cas a pour but d'éviter de réifier les cas marginaux des entreprises certifiées. Il ressort de l'analyse des données que les risques de réputation, d'image et de perte de la clientèle représentent les principales raisons qui stimulent les entreprises du secteur de l'industrie forestière à s'engager dans un processus de certification voire de labélisation durable au Cameroun. En d'autres termes la volonté de ces entreprises de s'engager dans le processus de certification ne s'inscrit pas dans une vision de stratégie managériale mais plutôt économique. Abstract : This article aims to understand how the supposed motivations of companies in the forest industry sector in Central Africa to enroll in a labeling process. Methodologically, this work focuses on a sample of three empirical case studies of logging companies operating in Cameroon, including a certified company A (model cases, because of their commitment to the forest certification process in the study area), another company B in the process of certification (intermediate cases) and finally a last company C hostile to certification (marginal cases, because of their hostility to a certification process in the study area). The association of these different cases is intended to avoid reifying the marginal cases of certified companies. It emerges from the analysis of the data that the risks of reputation, image and loss of customers represent the main reasons which stimulate companies in the forest industry sector to engage in a process of certification or even labeling. sustainable in Cameroon. In other words, the desire of these companies to engage in the certification process is not part of a managerial strategy vision but rather an economic one.
... 3 Lawrence with his colleague Bill Lacy (pres. 92-93) and Busch's students at the Michigan State School of Technoscience and Standards compiled an impressive portfolio on the bias of biotechnology research in the LGU system and the emergence of metrics and standards as private forms of agrifood governance (Busch 1989(Busch , 2008(Busch , 2011a(Busch , 2014Selfa 2013, 2017;Bain et al. 2020;Fouilleux and Loconto 2017;Hatanaka 2020;Hatanaka et al. 2012;Konefal et al. 2005;Lacy 1994Lacy , 1996Lacy et al. 1988;Middendorf and Busch 1997;Tanaka 2008). 4 Phil McMichael and the Oceana research collective have produced an impressive body of work on the role of financialization in agrifood globalization and the power of supermarkets in agrifood regimes. ...
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The Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society and the journal Agriculture and Human Values provided a crucial intellectual space for the early transdisciplinary critique of the industrial agrifood system. This paper describes that process and presents the concept of “The Doctors of Agrifood Studies” as a metaphor for the key role critical agrifood social scientists played in documenting the unsustainability of conventional agriculture and working to create an alternative, ethical, sustainable agrifood system. After the introduction, the paper details the “Critical Turn” in agrifood studies, followed by a reconsideration of my “Four Questions” framework, focusing on the current tension between the food security and food sovereignty discourses and movements.
... There are case studies that describe how global retailers are modernising their purchasing systems through stringent quality/safety control standards to optimise their local supply chains [65,66]. In addition to guiding supplier upgrades through procurement requirements, lead firms can embed knowledge of food safety standards directly in farmer groups [67], establish new connections with certified farmer groups [68], and innovate governance systems for standards in agricultural cooperatives [69,70]. While optimising production, lead firms also face corporate social responsibility and consumer pressure with social and environmental expectations, forcing companies to establish internal sustainability programmes. ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic, extreme temperatures and the Russia–Ukraine conflict have exposed deficiencies in global agricultural production capacity and governance systems, which left low-income countries and regions to face more severe food insecurity. Thus, there is an urgent need for agricultural upgrading and the establishment of a more sustainable agricultural system. Although there is a large body of literature with rich theoretical and empirical case studies, there is still a lack of systematic analysis of these studies, and the summary of global agricultural production networks and the agricultural upgrading process is not sufficient. This article will first set up an organisational framework of global agricultural production networks and explore the implications of governance and agricultural upgrading within this framework. It will then summarise the local agricultural upgrading processes on global, national and local scales based on a review of the existing literature. The article argues that agricultural upgrading in the context of global linkages is mainly driven by private-sector standards while the state also plays multiple roles. Moreover, in the embedding process of global agricultural production networks into local areas, local actors can promote agricultural upgrading through capacity building and organisational innovation. This review has implications for the economic, social and environmental sustainability of agriculture in developing countries, and provides a reference for future research.
This article examines the role of non-governmental organisation in supporting the implementation of global voluntary certification. This article investigates how World Wildlife Fund (WWF) helps implement the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) ecolabel standard in Indonesia. As the world’s second-largest aquaculture fish-producing country, many Indonesian seafood products are rejected in the international market due to quality problems. This makes Indonesia an ideal country for implementing sustainable aquaculture practices. Using transition theory as a framework, we find that WWF has played a key role in three areas: (1) harmonisation of national regulations with ASC principles, (2) establishment of a campaign program to advocate for the public on sustainable seafood consumption behaviour, and (3) creating a special agency to assist to fishery industry players in obtaining ASC certificates. Our finding sheds lights on the importance of strong collaboration between business actors, states, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to implement global voluntary standards.
This book discusses organic farming with regards to the origins and principles, policies and markets, organizations and institutions, and future concepts.
It is debatable whether organic agriculture as a whole is conventionalizing, as historical data are almost absent. However, a short overview of a few organic sectors in the Netherlands shows that the influence of conventional agro-food commodity chains is increasing and that the use of off-farm inputs is high. So current practices in organic agriculture (OA) may have negative effects on issues like energy use, nutrient losses and recycling, even though the practices are compliant with the existing EU-regulation on OA. This reduces the distinguishability of OA, thereby threatening long-term market perspectives and public support. Whether conventionalization is problematic depends on the opinion of what ‘organic agriculture’ actually entails. It is argued that no conclusions can be drawn about core values of OA in a normative (ethical) sense from sociological research on values of various stakeholders and their motives for being active in the organic chain. Only normative values may function as a guide towards the future, inspiring practices in OA as well as long-term market perspectives and regulatory developments. The OA principles formulated by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) on ecology, health, care and fairness do provide such a normative value basis and appear to be firmly rooted in the values of OA identified in the literature. Looking at the consequences of conventionalization in some sectors of OA in the Netherlands, we can conclude that they conflict with all IFOAM principles, in some way, especially with the Principles of Ecology and Health. If the OA sector wants to adhere to these core values and promote long-term market perspectives as well as public support, a development is required that limits conventionalization or mitigates its negative effects. The use of off-farm inputs is an important factor in conventionalization itself and has negative effects on the core organic values. Given the influence of international trade and economic competition, this development will require regulative action at international level that is focused on a reduced use of off-farm inputs (either conventional or organic inputs transported over a long distance).