Organic Production and Certification

My first stream of research builds upon my dissertation research, which examined the lived experience of market-based organic regulation for dairy producers in New Zealand and its impact on environmental behaviors and production practices. Over the last two decades, the global agrifood system has undergone a process of neoliberalization that has shifted away from state-led interventions and towards so-called market-based regulation that relies on consumer-focused initiatives such as voluntary certification and food labeling. This has given rise to the plethora of “sustainable” and “green” certifications and labels such as Certified Naturally Grown, Carbon Free Certified, Food Alliance Certified, etc. Within this context, many nation-states have created government organic certifications that build upon the neoliberal model of consumer choice and third-party audits. My dissertation sought to examine variation of these organic certifications in structure and practice and their lived reality for dairy farmers in the world’s largest dairy exporting nation.

My dissertation offered a comparison of three organic certifications in New Zealand’s dairy industry: two different third-party auditors both certifying to the United States organic program (USDA NOP) and one organization offering an independent organic certification. I concluded that there was considerable variation in the content and structure of these organic regulations and significant variation amongst certifiers in how they enforced the regulations. This variation led to inconsistency in environmental behaviors amongst farmers and allowed farmers to “shop” amongst certifiers for one that closely mirrored existing practices, rather than transforming production practices to meet new environmental ideals. Overall, I argue that existing neoliberal organic regulations fall far short of environmental and social movement ideals and largely fail to transform environmental norms and behaviors of farmers.