, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 53-71
Date: 19 Oct 2008

Constrained Choice and Ethical Dilemmas in Land Management: Environmental Quality and Food Safety in California Agriculture

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Abstract

As environmental and conservation efforts increasingly turn towards agricultural landscapes, it is important to understand how land management decisions are made by agricultural producers. While previous studies have explored producer decision-making, many fail to recognize the importance of external structural influences. This paper uses a case study to explore how consolidated markets and increasing corporate power in the food system can constrain producer choice and create ethical dilemmas over land management. Crop growers in the Central Coast region of California face conflicting demands regarding environmental quality and industry imposed food safety standards. A mail survey and personal interviews were used to explore growers’ perceptions and actions regarding these demands. Results indicate that in many cases growers face serious ethical dilemmas and feel pressured by large processing and retail firms to adopt measures they find environmentally destructive and unethical. Future strategies to address environmental issues on agricultural landscapes should consider the economic constraints producers face and the role of large firms in creating production standards.