University of Southern California

The Rise of U.S. Food Sustainability Litigation

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Article by Stephanie Tai
From Volume 85, Number 4 (May, 2012)

This Article provides one of the first critical looks at the interface between the values of the sustainable food movement and its rising use of litigation. In particular, it focuses on two growing areas of food sustainability litigation–challenges to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“CAFOs”) and challenges to the use of genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”) in the food system–chosen because they involve growing sectors of U.S. agriculture over which members of the sustainable food movement have raised significant concerns.

The Article begins by describing the sustainable food movement, including how the movement fits in with factors that sociologists use to characterize social movements, as well as the values seemingly held by the sustainable food movement. The Article next provides a brief introduction into CAFOs and GMOs. In doing so, the Article explores the types of concerns expressed by the sustainable food movement regarding these issues by examining some popular literature coming out of the sustainable food movement. The Article then analyzes CAFO and GMO litigation in the United States arising from the sustainable food movement. This Article observes how these challenges relate to some of the purported goals of the sustainable food movement, yet recognizes that such litigation might not fully succeed in advancing some of the broader visions of the movement. The Article then explains that the inadequacy of these legal efforts results from the particular ways in which existing legal avenues fail to mesh with the values of the sustainable food movement. This Article concludes by drawing from studies of other historical movements and argues that if the sustainable food movement is to succeed in transforming the U.S. food system, it must seek reform not only through substantive changes to agricultural and food policy, but also through the creation of additional legal avenues for its values to be meaningfully expressed.

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