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Capturing the Sustainability Agenda: Organic Foods and Media Discourses on Food Scares, Environment, Genetic Engineering, and Health


This paper undertakes a content analysis of newspaper articles from Australia, the UK, and the US concerned with a variety of issues relevant to sustainable food and agriculture from 1996 to 2002. It then goes on to identify the various ways in which sustainability, organic food and agriculture, genetic engineering, genetically modified foods, and food safety are framed both in their own terms and in relation to each other. It finds that despite the many competing approaches to sustainability found in scientific and agricultural production discourses, media discourses tend to reduce this complexity to a straightforward conflict between organic and conventional foods. Despite regular reporting of viewpoints highly critical of organic food and agriculture, this binary opposition produces discourses in which organic foods are seen as more-or-less synonymous with safety, naturalness and nutrition, and their alternatives as artificial, threatening, and untrustworthy. Particularly controversial food-related issues such as genetic engineering, food scares, chemical residues, and regulatory failure are treated as part of the same problem to which organic food offers a trustworthy and easily understood solution.

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The author would like to thank Nell Salem for her invaluable assistance in the collection and processing of data for this paper, along with the rest of the Greening Foods research team, Professor Geoffrey Lawrence, and Dr. Kristen Lyons.

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Correspondence to Stewart Lockie.

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Stewart Lockie is Associate Professor of Rural and Environmental Sociology and Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Health at Central Queensland University. His main research interests lie in the greening of food and agriculture, food commodity networks, and natural resource management. Recent co-edited books include Rurality Bites: The Social and Environmental Transformation of Rural Australia and Consuming Foods, Sustaining Environments.

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Lockie, S. Capturing the Sustainability Agenda: Organic Foods and Media Discourses on Food Scares, Environment, Genetic Engineering, and Health. Agric Hum Values 23, 313–323 (2006).

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  • Content analysis
  • Discourse
  • Genetic engineering
  • Organic food