The science and politics of quality food standards: Global governance, policy diffusion, and the implementation of geographical indications in the Global South

Matthew J. Zinsli, Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Agriculture and Food, Developing Nations, Economic Development, Economic Sociology, Environment and Society, Environmental Policy, Government/Political systems, International Relations/Trade, Politics and Society, Public Administration, Science and Technology, Sociology
Keywords - Diffusion, Standards, Food Quality, Conservation, Rural Development, Global Governance

My research focuses on the interplay of science and policymaking, the transnational flow of ideas, and the global politics of food quality. Specifically, I use the example of geographical indication (GI), a voluntary food standard based on terroir that identifies and conveys the essential role of territorial origin to a product’s quality, reputation, or other characteristics, to explore how Global North food standards are authorized and diffused to shape food system regulation in the Global South, and how the form and content of such standards reflects and reshapes state-driven efforts to develop non-traditional exports and niche market goods in an increasingly integrated global economy. In my dissertation, based on in-depth interviews, participant observation, and archival work conducted across two continents, I consider how French standards for demonstrating terroir (‘the taste of place’) became central to the discursive and practical dissemination of GI labels as a state-driven rural development strategy in Ecuador, and how the implementation of such standards for Galápagos Islands coffee emerged within and reshaped narratives of biodiversity conservation and specialty coffee value chain governance. This research has been supported by a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship.

My work addresses central debates in a variety of sociological and interdisciplinary fields, such as globalization, international development, environmental sociology, rural sociology, agrofood studies, and science and technology studies. As such, I make three important contributions. First, my dissertation contributes to recent scholarship that has recognized the ordering of global governance through the constitution of international and transnational standards, but which has given less attention to the global standard-setting authority of national regulatory bodies. Second, it advances theories of global governance and development by addressing how organizations that lack coercive power to impose their ideas on state policymakers nevertheless shape the transnational diffusion of policy models and institutional templates. Third, it demonstrates how food standards are constructed through a political and scientific process in which the technical status of standards cannot be taken for granted, but rather emerges through power relations.