Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) establish metrics and collect farm-level data to measure sustainability in the food system. Rooted in the private sector, MSIs advance goals that were once the responsibility of the state. To make sense of this trend, we distinguish three ideal types of accountability systems in the United States agrifood system: community-based, state-led, and private-ordering systems. We explore the implications of data-driven private-ordering for the distribution of power and accountability along a food supply chain by analyzing Field to Market, a prominent US-based MSI. A central feature of Field to Market are metrics that commodity producers can use to assess their performance and which provide data for food manufacturers and retailers to support sustainability claims. Compared to state-led environmental sustainability efforts from the 1940s until the 1980s, which depended on farmers voluntarily adhering to regulations, metrics rely upon the generation and circulation of data that create a nascent, privately ordered bureaucracy. This change in governance has purported and undeclared consequences for food supply chains. Field to Market's metrics promise continuous improvements in agricultural sustainability and accountability in the food system, but they also help food manufacturers and retailers coordinate their supply chains, facilitate the commodification of farm management data, and reframe the meaning of sustainability.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Sociology and Political Science