Thursday, April 05, 2012

Food and Superfood

Organic food

Jim Chen, Food and Superfood: Organic Labeling and the Triumph of Gay Science Over Dismal and Natural Science in Agricultural Policy, 48 Idaho L. Rev. (forthcoming 2012). Part of the 2012 Idaho Law Review Symposium, Genetically Modified Organisms: Law and the Global Market.
The nearly silent and seamless convergence of American and European standards for organic labeling represents a pivotal moment in contemporary agricultural policy. Effective June 1, 2012, the United States and the European Union have each agreed to treat the other jurisdiction’s system of organic certification as equivalent to its own. Because organic labeling under the Organic Foods Production Act serves as the practical (if legally imperfect) vehicle by which American farmers and agribusinesses market food produced without resort to genetically modified organisms, the United States and European Union’s organic equivalence arrangement provides a quiet, partial solution to one of the longest, bitterest trade disputes dividing the dominant cultures of the North Atlantic. Beyond its impact in two of the world’s biggest markets for organic food, the Organic Equivalence Arrangement signals something even deeper within the making of global agricultural policy. The silent substitution of organic labeling for transatlantic harmonization of policies on genetically modified organisms represents the triumph of aesthetics and environmental philosophy over the traditional drivers of agricultural policy and food and drug law in the United States: production costs, retail prices, consumer protection, and federal supervision of all aspects of science affecting food and agriculture. In a stunning reversal of the usual presumption that philosophical beauty should not dictate legal truth, transatlantic convergence on organic labeling gives the gay science of poetry a striking victory over the dismal science of economics and the natural science of conventional agriculture.
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Blogger Patrick S. O'Donnell said...


I enjoyed this piece, and marvel at your ability to pack so much into comparatively short articles (were it that others were so accomplished). I think many of the interesting and most recalcitrant if not irresolvable questions arise at the level of default principles and attitudes: cost-benefit judgments relying on contested criteria for same (on the order of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’), or precautionary principle(s) (on the order of ‘better safe than sorry’). You write that, “To a great extent in Europe and to a lesser extent in America, political support for mandatory disclosure of GMO use draws much of its power from distrust of government to respond, with competence and with honesty, to actual or perceived threats to food safety,” but I wonder if it rather has to do with anxieties and concerns over “Big Science” in conjunction with Ellul-like suspicion (if not inchoate fear) of and ambivalence about, technology (e.g., we’re enamored of high-tech gadgets for personal use but suspicious of ‘megamachines’ and technologies seemingly unamenable to democratic oversight and control). Distrust of government, to the extent that it exists in this regard, reflects, I think, awareness of regulatory capture and the fact that money is, indeed, frequently the mother’s milk of politics. Intriguingly, environmental philosophies (and by that I intend more than what is connoted by green ideologies’) possess, I think, the potential to integrate the natural sciences (especially but not only ecology), economics (from E.F. Schumacher to Partha Dasgupta and others) and aesthetics (environmentalism might be thought of as the ‘highest’ or ultimate aesthetic!) such that there is one overarching cultural ethos rather than three competing cultures.

4/05/2012 7:35 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

Fantastic comment, Patrick. I marvel in turn at your galaxy-spanning command of history and philosophy. Many thanks! Please make sure that I credit you in the star footnote of the published version of this essay.

4/05/2012 9:01 PM  

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