Matters of scale and the politics of the Food Safety Modernization Act

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial

20 Scopus citations


Signed into law in early 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) marked the first major overhaul of the United States' regulatory system for food safety since the 1930s. This presidential address explores how the social movement for local and regional food systems influenced the debates around the FSMA and, in particular, how issues of scale became pivotal in those debates. Specifically, a key question revolved around whether or not the proposed regulations should apply to small farms and processors who sell directly to consumers in local markets. Advocates of the so-called "Tester amendment" aimed to create a scale-sensitive alternative to the requirements in the bill. This address lays out the three interrelated arguments that amendment advocates used. The first was the idea that food safety risks are different at different scales, and therefore the rules should reflect those differences. Their second argument revolved around the character of the local, direct markets of small producers and the social relationships embedded within them. The third argument used to support the Tester amendment is that the costs of complying with the detailed regulatory requirements of the new food safety law place a disproportionately large burden on small producers and that might thwart the emerging market for local food as an alternative to industrial agriculture. I conclude by suggesting some research and policy questions that could be explored more fully, both with respect to this case and with respect to alternative agri-food movements more generally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-581
Number of pages5
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Food Safety Modernization Act
  • Food safety
  • Local food movement


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