New! Improved? The Transformation of the Global Agrifood System*


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    This paper is partly based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SBR 0094618. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. Direct correspondence to: Lawrence Busch, Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, 422 Berkey Hall, East Lansing, 48824; e-mail:


Abstract  The last decade has witnessed a dramatic rise in global trade in food and agricultural products. While much analysis has focused on the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in this process, we argue that other forms of regulation are of far greater consequence. In this paper, we examine changes in the agrifood system made possible by the WTO and we assess the rise of global private standards. We argue that the new global rules, regulations, and institutions implemented by the WTO have facilitated the ability of the private agrifood sector to consolidate and expand internationally. Of particular importance is the growing influence of food retailers as they rapidly become more global and oligopolistic. The article concludes that today it is the private sector, and retailers in particular, together with private standards that are at the center of the transformation of the global agrifood system.