Cultivating the niche: a study of the origins and consequences of standards-based certification organizations in the U.S. organic food industry

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Cornell University, 2007 - Cooking - 276 pages
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Standards-based certification organizations (SBCOs) as a source of market order have been largely neglected as a topic of study by social scientists, particularly when compared to other sources of order such as the state and the market. This dissertation presents three papers that examine the origins of SBCOs, their impact on broader regulatory structure, and how they influence market entry and exit rates in the U.S. organic food industry. The first paper, "Fences and Gates: An Inductive Case Study of StandardsBased Certification Organizations in the U.S. Organic Food Industry," employs qualitative evidence to develop a typology of SBCOs and then quantitatively assesses what facilitating conditions led to the founding of distinctive SBCO forms in U.S. states. Findings from this paper suggest that the codification of standards and certification processes initially served as a "fence" that established a boundary around the concept of organic but which subsequently served as a "gate" by which industry outsiders entered the organic industry and engendered endogenous field-level change, significantly altering the trajectory of the market. The second paper, "Mechanisms Generating Variation: Regulatory Change in the Organic Food Industry," empirically examines how different SBCO forms influence variation and evolution in the content of industry law. This approach moves beyond extant dichotomous conceptualizations of regulation that dominate institutional analyses of regulatory structure. The results of this paper provide answers to questions of when and under what conditions private governance organizations influence variation and evolution of industry regulation. The third paper, "Certifying the Harvest: The Role of Standards-Based Certification Organizations in Market Entry and Exit Dynamics," examines how SBCOs, through key processes of creation of standards, advocacy, verification of compliance, and endorsement, influence patterns of market entry and exit of organic producers. Drawing on state-level and firm-level data sets spanning a 15-year period (1986-2000), I show that SBCOs stimulate entry into the market and that the certification they provide to individual firms inhibits market exit and moderates the competitive effects of increasing form density. (Abstract).

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