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Governance in the Global Agro-food System: Backlighting the Role of Transnational Supermarket Chains

Abstract

With the proliferation of private standards many significant decisions regarding public health risks, food safety, and environmental impacts are increasingly taking place in the backstage of the global agro-food system. Using an analytical framework grounded in political economy, we explain the rise of private standards and specific actors – notably supermarkets – in the restructuring of agro-food networks. We argue that the global, political-economic, capitalist transformation – globalization – is a transition from a Fordist regime to a regime of flexible accumulation (Harvey, 1989). We also argue that the standard making process of this new regulatory regime is increasingly moving from the front stage – where it is open to public debate and democratic decision-making bodies – to the backstage – where it is dominated by large supermarket procurement offices. We assert that transnational supermarket chains are increasingly controlling what food is grown where, how, and by whom. We also contend that the decision-making processes of transnational supermarket chains are typically “black-boxed.” The Euro-Retailer Produce Working Group (EUREP) is presented as a case of private governance by transnational supermarket chains. We conclude by examining the limitations and long-term efficacy of a system of private governance in the global agro-food system.

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Abbreviations

EUREP:

Euro-Retailer Produce Working Group

EUREPGAP:

Euro-Retailer Produce Working Group Good Agricultural Practices

HAACP:

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point

TSC:

Transnational Supermarket Chain

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Correspondence to Jason Konefal.

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Jason Konefal is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. His interests include environmental sociology, food and agriculture, social movements, and science and technology studies. His dissertation research examines the political economic restructuring of the global agrifood system and the implications for social and environmental movements.

Michael Mascarenhas is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. His interests include political economy, the sociology of science and technology, environmental and rural sociology, and globalization and development. His current research involves a critical analysis of neoliberal water policy reform and indigenous inequalities. As of September 2005, Michael has taken a position in the Department of Sociology at Kwantlen University College in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

Maki Hatanaka is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University. Her interests include food and agriculture, development, and gender. Much of her recent research focuses on standards and thirdparty certification and their social and environmental implications.

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Konefal, J., Mascarenhas, M. & Hatanaka, M. Governance in the Global Agro-food System: Backlighting the Role of Transnational Supermarket Chains. Agric Hum Values 22, 291–302 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-005-6046-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-005-6046-0

Key words

  • Food and agriculture
  • Global oligopolies
  • Governance
  • Political economy
  • Privatization
  • Standards
  • Transnational supermarket chains