In 2007 new meat inspection regulations standardizing meat production throughout the Province of British Columbia (BC), Canada came into effect moving food for local consumption closer to continentally harmonized production standards. Critics argue that the economic viability of small-scale livestock farmers is threatened. Small-scale women farmers are central to the creation of alternative local agri-food networks in BC. Using gender as an analytically enabling tool this paper argues that public food-safety regulation can create the conditions for the dominance of private agri-food governance. The discursive creation of a feminized privileged consumer legitimates much non-democratic agri-food governance. The paper argues that more just and ecologically sustainable futures require a ‘gender troubling’ of agri-food governance in which the privileged identity of the food consumer is reconstructed as global citizen in the context of the food sovereignty of the farmers who produce their food.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Most simply defined as a people’s, countries’ or state unions’ right to define their own food and agriculture policy without any dumping vis a vis third countries. See La Via Campesina www.viacampesina.org.
Economic textbooks used to talk of the consumer being king. The supermarket food shopper is gendered female, whatever his/her sex. As ‘queen’ she is both privileged but also powerless in many ways.
An international network of peasants, small farmer, landless and other rural dwellers’ organizations and probably the world largest social movement. Its origins lie in resistance to the neo-liberalization of agriculture.
Although strictly speaking it was a singular regulation but in common usage it took on a plural meaning and thus will be referred to as MIRs in the rest of the document.
Explanations and justifications depended on context and audience and the branch of government. It is also clear that there was pressure for this kind of universal HACCP based food-safety regulation and for provincial, national and international harmonization of food-safety regimes from a variety of sources for quite some time (Blay-Palmer 2008; Haines 2004; Skogstad 2008). Animals diseases issues and trade consequences are also raised. Similar regulation is in the future for small-scale vegetable producers.
Some argue that the presence of federal CFIA agents brought an unnecessarily restrictive interpretation to the provincial legislation.
The Haines (2004) report from Ontario greatly influenced BC regulators. The Haines inquiry was in response to reports of dead cows being accepted by an Ontario abattoir. Ironically that abattoir was both federally and provincially licensed. The eventual prosecution was for selling meat that was not inspected rather than selling contaminated meat. It was failure to follow proper process that rendered the meat ‘unfit’. http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/projud/2008/20080124e.shtml accessed July 10, 2009.
Activists argued that it was corporate industrial scale agriculture which creates the conditions for Mad Cow Disease (BSE), E. coli 0157, and Avian Flu and which constitutes a greater danger to public health.
Some may argue that global export oriented agri-food regulation creates global market access and economic viability to small farmers in the Global South, whether for organic vegetables, fair trade coffee etc. Analysis needs to be crop, commodity and context specific. The focus here is on livestock farming.
See 2009 video posted via youtube by Assen and Tudge. Our right to BC farmgate food: make it an election issue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCpk9ovHzOc.
The federal CFIA seemed very active around the MIRs despite these merely being provincial standards, supporting those who saw trade concerns as a driving force. There were noticeable differences within and between government departments. Their final shape is partly explained by the waning power of the state assistance model of agriculture (and thus Ministries of Agriculture) vis a vis the State’s interest in the legitimation functions of consumer protection and business confidence at home and international competitiveness abroad.
Coping required complying with up to eight separate regulatory bodies that informants said gave contradictory and confusing information about requirements. See also Marr (2007).
As the MIRs became a public issue there was quite vocal resistance from members of the opposition in parliament.
The BC government is temporarily paying for the inspector. In one case an inspector’s trip to a licensed plant to oversee their regular full capacity of 15 lambs took a full day, plus overtime. Clearly this arrangement is not economically sustainable.
Based on the North Okanagan Food Action Committee survey of a sample of the 1,227 farms in the region. Farms in the RDNO are typically small-scale: 60% are under 52 hectares in size, livestock rearing being a central activity, and 70% of farms in the region earned less than $24,999 in 2006 (http://www.rdno.ca/).
These included arguing that safety and traceability were already embedded in the (dialogical) relationships of trust in local food; scale, context or regionally appropriate standards etc. See Marr (2007).
In June 2008 the new Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport announced a concession creating a new temporary (until December 2009) Class C license. This allows uninspected facilities intending to upgrade to continue operating but only producing meat destined for direct market to consumers (not restaurants or local stores). Meat has to be labeled as uninspected. There is some evidence that the regulatory authorities have softened somewhat, as I know of two small fairly simple facilities that were licensed. Both however are on small islands and serve a very limited area. By June 2008 there were 51 provincially licensed facilities in BC, however, 20 of these were temporary Class C (BC Sheep Federation 2008), and many do not provide custom services.
For BC farmers, the new MIRs feel like just the tip of a regulatory iceberg; a lot more is coming. Large-scale farmers and processors can spread the costs in time and money over higher output, so lower per unit cost.
I have been told informally by a high level source that this is indeed part of what was going on.
It is questionable that food is safer (Gouveia and Juska 2000). As operationalized, the MIRs contain some HACCP-like characteristics.
Some, but not all in this struggle connects global justice and the local. A key website of resistance, the BC Food Systems Network, increasingly refers to food sovereignty, La Via Campesina and food democracy.
One young woman farmer told me how a supermarket chain bought cherry tomatoes from her 1 year and made her their local farmer poster-girl, only to dump her next year for a cheaper non-local supplier.
For example, between 1995 and 2000 almost half of the abattoirs in the UK closed largely due to the increasing regulatory burden. Yet this centralization of processing in the name of food-safety itself was later blamed for the rapid spread of foot and mouth disease when it occurred in the UK. Centralized processing also means that even small amounts of contaminated products become very widely distributed.
Aasen, Wendy, and Pamela Tudge. 2009. Our right to BC farmgate food, make it an election issue this May. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCpk9ovHzOc. Accessed on 15 May 2009.
Adams, Barbara, Ulrich Beck, and Joost Van Loon. 2000. The risk society and beyond: Critical issues for social theory. London: Sage.
Allen, Patricia, and Julie Guthman. 2006. From “old School” to “farm-to-school”: Neoliberalization from the ground up. Agriculture and Human Values 23: 401–405.
Allen, P., Margaret Fitzsimmons, Michael Goodman, and Keith Warner. 2003. Shifting plates in the agrifood landscapes. Journal of Rural Studies 19: 61–75.
BC Food Systems Network. 2008. http://www.fooddemocracy.org. Accessed 19 Nov 2008.
BC Sheep Federation. 2008. N’Ewesletter. 16 (2):18.
Beck-Gernsheim, Elizabeth. 2000. Health and responsibility: From social change to technological change and vice versa. In The risk society and beyond: Critical issues for social theory, ed. A. Adams, U. Beck, and J. Von Loon, 122–135. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Bell, Michael M. 2004. Farming for us all: Practical agriculture and the cultivation of sustainability. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Blay-Palmer, Alison. 2008. Food fears: From industrial to sustainable food systems. Burlington: Ashgate.
Busch, Lawrence. 2000. The moral economy of grades and standards. Journal of Rural Studies 16: 273–283.
Busch, Lawerence. 2008. The private governance of food: Equitable exchange or bizarre bazaar? Paper presented a symposium on the Private Governance in the Global Agro-food system, Münster, Germany, April 2008.
Campbell, Hugh. 2006. Consultation, commerce and contemporary agri-food systems. The Integrated Assessment Journal 6(2): 117–136.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 2008. Aylmer Meat Packers Incorporated and its President Fined for Offences Under the Meat Inspection Act and the Food and Drugs Act. http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/projud/2008/20080124e.shtml. Accessed 10 July 2009.
Chiappe, Marta, and Cornelia Butler Flora. 1998. Gendered elements of an alternative agriculture paradigm. Rural Sociology 63: 372–393.
Coldwell, Ian. 2007. New farming masculinities. (Australian) Journal of Sociology 43(1): 87–103.
Cone, Cynthia Abbott, and Andrea Myhre. 2000. Community-supported agriculture: A sustainable alternative to industrial agriculture? Human Organization 59: 187–197.
DeLind, Laura, and Anne Ferguson. 1999. Is this a women’s movement? The relationship of gender to community-supported agriculture in Michigan. Human Organization 59: 190–200.
DeLind, Laura, and Philip Howard. 2008. Safe at any scale? Food scares, food regulation and scaled alternatives. Journal of Agriculture and Human Values 25: 301–317.
Depuis, E.Melaine, and David Goodman. 2005. Should we go “home” to eat: Towards a reflexive politics of localism.
Desmarais, Annette. 2007. La Via Campesina: Globalization and the power of peasants. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing. Journal of Rural Studies 21(3): 359–371.
Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and danger. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Dunn, Elizabeth. 2003. Trojan pig: Paradoxes of food safety regulation. Environment and Planning A 35: 1493–1511.
Eagle, Alison, Robin, Tunnicliffe, Martha, McMahon, and G. Cornelis van Kooten. 2008. Farming on the urban fringe. APRN Farm Level Policy brief. May FLP#534. http://www.farmlevel.re.ualberta.ca/ Accessed 15 May 2009.
Escobar, Arturo. 2001. Culture sits in places: Reflections on globalism and subaltern strategies of localization. Political Geography 20: 139–174.
Freidberg, Susanne. 2004. French beans and food scares: Culture and commerce in an anxious age. New York: Oxford University Press.
Furedi, Frank. 2002. The culture of fear. London and New York: Continuum.
Gouveia, Lourdes, and Arunas Juska. 2000. Taming nature, taming workers: Constructing the separation between meat consumption and meat production in the US. Sociologia Ruralis 42: 370–390.
Guthman, Julie. 2003. Fast food/organic food: Reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow’. Social and Cultural Geography 4(1): 45–58.
Guthman, Julie. 2004. Back to the land: The paradox of organic food standards. Environment and Planning A 36: 511–528.
Haines, Ronald. 2004. Farm to fork: A strategy for meat safety in Ontario. Toronto: Food Safety, Science and Policy Branch, Government of Ontario.
Hall, Alan, and Veronica Mogyorody. 2002. Organic farming and the gendered nature of decision-making. Victoria: IFOAM Organic World Congress.
Haraway, Donna. 1991. Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge.
Harper, Charles, and Bryan LeBeau. 2003. Food, society, and environment. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Hines, Colin. 2000. Localization: A global manifesto. London: Earthscan.
Krug, Karen. 2003. Farm women and localized alternatives to globalized agriculture. Canadian Woman Studies 23(1): 129–134.
Marr, Jordan. 2007. BC’s new meat regulations: A survey of stakeholders. http://ffcf.bc.ca/PDFs%20&%20Linked%20Documents/Jordan_Marr_Meat_regs.pdf (accessed Jan 2009).
McLeod, Jenny. 2007. Secretary, district a farmers’ institutes. http://www.okshuswapgreens.ca/meatpetition3.htm. Accessed Oct 15 2007.
McMahon, Martha. 1997. From the ground up. Journal of Ecological Economics 20(2): 163–173.
McMahon, Martha. 2002. Resisting globalization: Women organic farmers and local food systems. Canadian Woman Studies 21/22(4/1): 203–206.
McMichael, Philip. 2007. States, sovereignty and crisis in the neo-liberal development project. Key note address at ‘Hegemonic Transitions and the State’ Conference, Feb 23–24 Vancouver, Canada.
Mutersbaugh, T. 2005. Fighting standards with standards: Harmonization, rents, and social accountability in certified agri-food networks. Environment and Planning 37(11): 2033–2051.
North Okanagan Food Action Committee. 2008. Impact of the meat inspection regulation on slaughter capacity in the North Okanagan Regional District http://www.rdno.ca/ (accessed 12 April 2008).
Patel, Rajeev. 2007. Transgressing rights: La Via Campesina’s call for food sovereignty. Feminist Economics 13(1): 87–116.
Peter, Gregory, Michael Mayerfeld Bell, Susan Jarnagin, and Donna Bauer. 2000. Coming back across the fence: Masculinity and the transition to sustainable agriculture. Rural Sociology 65(2): 215–235.
Post, Diahanna. 2005. Standards and regulatory capitalism: The diffusion of food safety standards in developing countries. The Annals of the American Academy 598: 168–183.
Prügl, Elizabeth. 2008. Gender and the making of global markets: An exploration of the agricultural sector. In Global governance: Feminist perspectives, ed. Shirin Rai, and Georgina Waylen, 43–63. NewYork: Palgrave MacMillan.
Rai, Shirin, and Georgina Waylen. 2008. Global governance: Feminist perspectives. NewYork: Palgrave MacMillan.ü.
Sachs, Carolyn. 1996. Gendered fields: Rural women, agriculture and environment. Boulder: Westview Press.
Sage, Colin. 2003. Quality in alternative food networks: Conventions, regulations and governance. Policies, governance and innovations for rural areas:International seminar. Universita della Calabria, Arcavacata di Rende.
Saul, John Ralston. 1993. Voltaire’s bastards: The dictatorship of reason in the West. Toronto: Penguin Canada.
Skogstad, Grace. 2008. Internationalization and Canadian agriculture: Policy and governing paradigms. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Smith, Dorothy. 2005. Institutional ethnography: A sociology for people. Toronto: Altamera Press.
Sumner, Jennifer. 2003. Visions of sustainability: Women organic farmers. Canadian Woman Studies 23(1): 146–150.
Sumner, Jennifer. 2005. Small is beautiful: The response of women organic farmers to the crisis in agriculture. Canadian Woman Studies 24(4): 78–84.
Trauger, Amy. 2004. ‘Because they can do the work’: Women farmers in sustainable agriculture in Pennsylvania, USA. Gender, Place and Culture 11(2): 298–307.
Tunnicliffe, Robin, Martha McMahon, and Alison Eagle. 2008. Beyond jam. Small Farm Canada. Sept/Oct: p. 46.
Wildavsky, Aaron. 1988. Searching for safety. London: Transaction Books.
Young, Lyle. 2004. A critical analysis of the meat inspection issue in British Columbia. Island Farmers’ Alliance, Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island. (unpublished paper).
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
McMahon, M. Standard fare or fairer standards: Feminist reflections on agri-food governance. Agric Hum Values 28, 401–412 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-009-9249-y
- Agri-food governance
- Local food and food sovereignty
- Women farmers